29 September 2015

A Record

The rain came to a sudden and unforeseen halt about 7:00 p.m. tonight, going from downpour to none in just a few minutes. Here is a view to the southwest from the veranda.

The rain gauge was just now read and emptied. It had been emptied last night about the same hour. The marks stop at 5.5 inches but the gauge was full and overflowed. Therefore, the heavens must have loosed at least 6.25 inches of water in 24 hours, probably more - and five more days of rain are forecast. Culverts have been washed away and bridges damaged or washed away all over the county. If a wind arises, the trees, their roots in unsound and soft anchorages, will tumble, taking power and telephone lines to the muddy ground. Let us hope for a miracle.

By all accounts, the local telephone coop, Citizen's, has performed an exemplary job of repairing washed away buried lines. Good on them.

Noah, Noah, where are you?

As soon as I complain about drought, it floods. God has such a sense of humor.

The rains began early Friday morning and released water continuously until Monday noon for a total of 5.5 inches here at Stratheden Farm. The ground was so dry that it sucked up the water for most of that time with relatively little run off. There was a moderate to dense fog the entire 72 hours, all done just to make my English visitors feel right at home (alright, the cats also helped welcome them. here is Grover, chief of the Hospitality Committee, making a guest feel right at home). Precipitation ceased about noon Monday.

 Right to the top of the measure: five and a half inches.

Then it came back last night with a vengeance, beginning a little after midnight, pouring for 13 hours. Unlike a few days ago, this has been an unrelenting HARD rain, torrential in nature. The power went out briefly during the night and it is amazing it is still on. Water is flowing like streams on the hill tops of my big pasture. One of the great assets of Floyd county is the rugged terrain and the general slope from the Blue Ridge northward into the next county; this usually flushes water out very quickly but adds to the flood woes of the county to the north. But now the rain is falling so hard that even the steep hills cannot drain fast enough to prevent streams from forming. There will certainly be serious erosion damage all over the farm. Howell Creek is surely out of its bounds and eating away at the lower meadow - it can be heard roaring over the hill and forest from half a mile away.

The pond-which-will-not-hold-water is almost up to the overflow drain pipe; its not had this much water in it during its five year dry life.

The 1,700 foot driveway has sustained severe erosion damage. My guess is it needs 3,000 pounds of hand shoveled gravel to repair it. Will be on the telephone at 8:00 tomorrow to source gravel. There is one quarry in the county but the county and state road departments, which have a massive job ahead, will probably have priority.

The county gravel road which connects Stratheden Farm to the outside world also has severe erosion. Here you can see the original 18th century base course revealed  underneath the modern gravel.

 Falling Branch Road at it low crossing at Falling Branch Creek is under rapidly flowing water. Here is the view downstream from the road; the normal three foot wide stream bed is the thin line to the far right of the watercourse.

 From the Roanoke TV station web page a few hours ago:

The rain continues to come down, and road conditions are worsening after several hours of heavy, continual downpours. Town businesses are being flooded. Streets are overflowing with water.

There is a one lane road on East Main Street; 221 South, between the NAPA store and Slaughters' Supermarket, is closed due to water over the road. [this means I cannot get into town]

The asphalt on a section of Barberry Road (near the Conner dairy farm) is washing away.

Earlier this morning, a mudslide was reported on Route 8, near I-81 in Christiansburg. Route 8 is closed from Whitetail Outfitters to Christiansburg. [this is the only state highway leading northward out of the county]

Drivers traveling from Floyd County to Christiansburg report road conditions on Route 8 are bad. Water is across the road in several places. "Rivers" of water from driveways are coming onto Route 8, said one driver. "There were ponds in the road longer than my truck."

Also on Riner’s Meadow Creek Road, known as “Pig Path”, the water swept a van off the road into a field. Emergency personnel responded, and the driver, a college student from Floyd County, is now out of the vehicle. Her van is still in the water and will stay there until the water recedes. The road is closed.

Here is a video made from the library looking across the street to the Food Lion parking lot:

Patrick County, just on the other side of the Blue Ridge, has had the same flooding and the historic Bob White covered bridge was knocked from its buttresses and washed away. It was built in 1921 and survived all rains until now; that should give a sense of the magnitude of today's situation. And the forecast is like a broken record (who remembers 33 rpm vinyl skipping?) The worst may be yet to come.
The ground is so super-saturated the little springs are bubbling up from the ground.

When I planted lettuce & radishes last week I hoped for enough rain to germinate the seeds. Now I pray the garden has not been washed away.

This is one of those times a small $1500 drone would be very handy to overfly the farm and determine what is damaged and prioritize repairs, beginning with the driveway. Oh well, no drone so pull on the wading boots...

21 September 2015

seasons a changing?


 The last rain fell on Stratheden on Friday, September 4th; the weather forecasts, if they prognosticated precipitation (and they did), were proven false. Not a drop... until a major cold front blew in yesterday. The skies drizzled the nectar of life onto the farm for nearly twelve hours, for a total of about 1.1 inches. It may or may not be too late to save some plants which have turned brown and dropped leaves already, such as this young tree at the front of the farm.

Much of the eastern seaboard is abnormally dry, including here. The NASA Earth Observatory map published on Sept. 14th shows the root zone soil moisture levels as compared to averages for the same time of year between 1948-2012. Dry indeed. It is surprising that Floyd is not shown even drier since it has not had the grace of major storms that have dropped multi-inch rainfalls on adjacent counties over the summer.

Yesterday mowing of the large pasture, about 35 acres, was completed. It was too short and poor to bale but needed to be clipped because:
1, Weed Control the bane of the farm's fields is a nasty weed, horse nettles (Solanum carolinense). part of the nightshade family with blooms that resemble those of the potato, the fruits are toxic to humans, livestock and even birds. As Penn State University's website notes, "Cultivation alone is unlikely to control horsenettle, and it may even create a worse infestation by chopping up the roots and spreading them over a larger area. Although the plants that emerge after cultivation are small and easy to control by systemic herbicides, the many root pieces remaining in the soil continue to emerge for years." No wonder one name for it is "weed of Sodom." Mowing combined with herbicides will nearly control it but I refuse to use any herbicides here.
2. aid cool season grasses. This is the time for transition from warm to cool season grasses in the pastures. By removing the dead or fully mature warm season grasses, more light and nutrition can go to the cool season grasses to prepare them for withstanding the winter.

An unbelievable amount of detritus is whipped into the air when mowing with a 60 inch tractor mounted mower. I have learned the hard way to wear a particulate mask and eye protection. When the mowing began, the radiator screen was perfectly clean; here it is after three hours of  emulsifying weed seed and insect parts into the atmosphere, a by-product of mowing. The blockage was total and the engine nearly overheated on a 68F degree day.

Autumn is certainly in the air brought by this blessed cold front but Nature already knew the times were changing. The dogwoods switched their color palette weeks ago but the single most certain sign of the onset of cooler weather is the hordes of stink bugs attempting to enter your house. Their numbers have increased to where a single window screen may hold back a dozen or more of the nasty critters.

 And finally - one of the great joys of autumn is the various nut trees. The hickory nits and walnuts may be poor because of the drought conditions but the chinquapins are popping open right now and they are delicious! A true Southern delicacy.

08 September 2015

Rain - at last

a very dry dogwood tree
 The paucity of posts has been due to a paucity of news. About a week ago, a rough draft of a post, complaining about the on going drought, was in progress; even the poison ivy was wilting. Then, at long last, the skies opened last Friday to yield 1.2 inches of rain; the ground was so dry that there was no observed run off. Until this most recent blessings from the clouds, only one rain all summer has amounted to more than half an inch. Although the area has not been in a drought, Floyd county has been gripped by the dusty devils. Surrounding counties have, not infrequently, been under flash flood watches. 

A post early in August prematurely forecast that summer had already begun to wane. Well, although most of August was relatively mild, the last fortnight has been unseasonably hot with most days in the low 80s. The National Weather Service has prognosticated a return to more seasonable temperatures by this coming weekend, which would be pleasant.

Time to get back to cutting firewood. The National Weather Service three month outlook is for damper than normal conditions and cooler than normal temperatures, which may - or may not - presage a hard winter.

Wishing you and yours a colorful, temperate and pleasurable autumn.