Freak wind causes isolated damage on Hillsboro farmyard

Severe weather in Kansas, as many folks across the state discovered last week, can cut wide swaths through the state and leave significant damage in its wake.

Shelley and Steve Schale discovered that damaging winds can also strike in very small, isolated areas, too.

The couple were awakened around 11:15 p.m. last Tuesday by a noise that “sounded like a piece of paper blowing off the table.”

When they went outside to investigate, they discovered a Dutch Elm tree had broken over just above the main trunk and landed on Shelley’s car, which was setting outside the garage adjacent to their house.

They found out later that the wind also blew over an old outhouse from the side of the garage and pushed it about 20 feet away from its base. The wind also deposited some old rain gutters in the same area.

The following morning revealed a distinct path of fallen branches across their yard and some shingles blown off a barn roof, suggesting the wind came out of the northwest.

What piques their curiosity, though, was that except for that narrow trail of debris, the wind apparently did no other damage on the yard.

Strangest of all, some tall, old pine trees and a garden plot located less than 50 feet from the broken Dutch Elm tree showed no sign of wind damage.

Further, there were no tell-tale signs of strong wind beyond their farmyard, which is located a half mile east of the Hillsboro Industrial Park on U.S. 56 Highway.

A call to the emergency dispatch office in Marion revealed no other reports of wind damage that night.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” Shelley said.

What was a unique experience for the Schales may not have been that unusual a phenomenon, according to Hayden Frank, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.

“You can have strong, damaging winds in a very small area,” he said. “It’s really not unusual to get that. We refer to that as a microburst.”

A microburst is a violent but short-lived localized down draft that creates extreme wind shears at low altitudes.

That a nearby garden plot located so close to significant damage was left untouched isn’t unusual either, he said.

“That’s typical,” Frank said. “Sometimes (a microburst) covers a very small area.”

For all the curiosity it generated, the microburst did little financial damage at the Schale place. The passenger-side mirror of Shelley’s car was broken off by the fallen tree, but that was about the extent of it.

Mother Nature may have done them a favor, in fact.

Shelley said her husband calmly surveyed the situation Tuesday night and said quietly, “I didn’t like that tree anyway.”

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