2019 Marine Corps Historic Half (copy)

Stephanie Thomas (left) of Fredericksburg get grabs a cup at a water station during the Historic Half Marathon in Fredericksburg, Virginia on May 19, 2019.

Every spring is different and this one is no exception.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of spring 2019 is that in most of the Piedmont, there was no frost after April 3. That is more than a month earlier than the average date of the last frost in our area.

Noting the long-range weather forecast, I took a chance and started planting tomatoes April 11. We had two nights after that when the temperature got down into the upper 30s, but there was no frost. There was no damage.

It has been a warm spring, but we’ve had warm springs before. Seven years ago, in 2012, we had a period of 80-degree days in March that brought out the blooms on peach and apple trees a month early. That year, however, we had frost late in April that nipped tomatoes planted early.

Back in the 1970s—I think it was 1976—we had nearly two weeks of 90-degree temperatures in April. Yes, we have had springs this warm before.

Many readers who have been inundated with storms recently may not believe this, but I began irrigating my tomato crop early last week. Ten miles to the south and 10 miles to the north, there was plenty of rain in late May, but all the big showers missed me.

Seven miles to the north, a good friend got almost 2 inches of rain from a thunderstorm at his farm. I got two-tenths of an inch. That’s the way summer storms operate. They are localized.

Then, too, rain follows rain. Storms are drawn to wet ground, so if you had a good rain recently, you are likely to get more precipitation from the next storm.

For whatever reason, storms seem to split when they approach my house. The northern half follows the Rappahannock River through Rappahannock and Fauquier counties, while the southern portion moves east along the Rapidan River toward Orange.

That is nothing new; it has happened that way since I can remember. Some blame Old Rag Mountain for splitting the storms, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that it is the rivers that lead the storms along. Water follows water, whether it is a river or wet ground.

While I am irrigating, parts of North and South Carolina are also in the early stages of a drought. A friend who traveled through there recently reported that farmers battling floods last summer now have 2-foot-high corn that has shriveled up and turned brown because of lack of rain. Nature always evens things out.

Another somewhat unusual aspect of this spring has been the number of tornadoes in our area. One bad one went through Orange and Spotsylvania two weeks ago.

In one two-week period in May, the National Weather Service reported that there had been more than 500 tornadoes in 22 states east of the Rockies. Virginia had several.

Are we getting more tornadoes in our area than we used to or is it just that more are being reported? Before there were houses on every corner and cellphones in every pocket, many tornadoes were just the subject of neighborhood discussions. Now every strong wind that blows in ends up on the 6 o’clock news or social media.

The most famous tornado outbreak in Virginia history—and the history of our area—was 90 years ago. On May 2, 1929, tornadoes struck from Southwest Virginia to West Virginia, hitting two schools and killing a number of people. They were particularly devastating in Rappahannock and Fauquier counties.

Around 1960, there was a tornado that went through the Rapidan area of Culpeper and Orange counties that did much damage. I remember driving through that area and seeing cedar trees a foot in diameter that had been twisted off halfway up the trunk. Again, the storm followed the Rapidan River.

And about 20 years ago, a tornado came directly over my house and finally made it to the ground along the Hazel River. It made a direct hit on a 4,000-square-foot brick house that literally exploded. Damage also occurred at a nearby church.

So you see, all the weather we’re having this year has occurred before. It is nothing new. We’ve had the warm springs before and we’ve had the tornadoes.

And while we have had several summers of heavy rains, we’re likely going to have summers of drought, especially in July and August. That’s just the way it works. Nature evens things out, maybe not the way humans would like, but all weather conditions will average out in the long run. The trees will grow and then get blown down. The rocks will develop only to eventually erode.

Remember a few weeks ago, I reminded readers about the danger of lightning? Last week, several people got struck by a bolt in Prince William County. Don’t fool around with lightning; get inside when a storm arises.

I heard something the other day I had not heard before. If you are in a boat when a storm arises, get to land immediately. And if you are wearing a life preserver, stand on it. It will offer insulation.

Whatever the summer weather brings, stay safe.

Donnie Johnston:


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