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News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, August 14, 2014
Hail, lightning cause damage, destroy local blueberry fields
Loss estimated at 100 acres

by Rich Hewitt

The thunderstorms that brought heavy rains to the area last week also brought damaging lightning and hail.

Localized hail ruined most of a blueberry crop on fields off the Kingdom Road in Blue Hill on Thursday, August 7, and lightning strikes resulted in damage to homes and businesses and caused spotty power outages in the area.

Several growers lost almost all their blueberry crop to the hail. Jeff and Trude Beardsworth had already started raking their leased field when the storm hit, and Trude Beardsworth estimated that they lost more than a third of the crop.

“There was still a good batch of berries there,” she said. “Some of the best raking was still left.”

The hail pounded the berries, which had been shaping up to be a fairly good crop, and knocked most of them off the plants. Beardsworth said the next morning there was pea-sized hail still left on the ground. That chilled the remaining berries enough so they dropped off as well, she said.

Lloyd Turner had just moved his equipment onto the field that day in preparation to start harvesting the crop on Friday.

“We had just strung it off that day and were ready to rake,” Turner said. “We lost 100 percent.”

Some of the growers, like Turner, did not have insurance to cover the lost berries.

“We insured that field, and insured it for years, and nothing ever happened,” he said. “This year, we didn’t insure it.”

Turner estimated that the six Kingdom Road blueberry fields that were hit by the hail lost about a quarter of a million pounds of blueberries. Although the price paid for berries has not yet been set, there’s no doubt that the loss of that many berries is significant.

That loss represents income that helps to cover the costs of raising the berries including burning, spraying, as well as the cost to the landowner, who also feels the effect of the lost berries.

“That’s no income for him, and he pays the taxes for the lands,” Turner said. “This hurts a lot of people—the grower, the landowner, the rakers—everybody gets hit by this.”

Everybody, including the processing plant.

Most of the growers in that area provide berries to G.M. Allen & Son in Orland who also owns fields that were damaged by the hail. The damage to the berries on those fields was a significant loss to the company, according to Vice President Annie Allen.

“Altogether, there was a loss of about 90 percent of the crop on over 100 acres of fields,” she said. “That’s pretty devastating. It’s a pretty big setback for us.”

It’s also a fairly rare setback. Allen’s father has been in the blueberry business for decades, and according to her, he’s only seen damage from hail once before in all those years, and it never caused the kind of damage this storm caused.

The damage seems to have been localized with hail falling in South Penobscot and Blue Hill, generally between County Road (Route 177) in Penobscot and the Kingdom Road in Blue Hill.

There were reports of hail built up an inch thick on the ground in some areas of South Penobscot, thick enough to cover the grass.

According to Allen, there was some evidence that hail had hit near Pertville in Sedgwick where they saw some dropped berries and some damage to a vegetable garden, but nothing as serious as the damage to the Kingdom Road fields.

Allen noted that the hail damage appeared to be restricted to just that one area of blueberry fields. A nearby blueberry field, located just across the Kingdom Road, did not receive any hail damage at all, she said.

“There seems to be a pretty sharp cut-off line,” she said.

That’s not all that unusual for a hail storm, according to Dustin Jordan, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Caribou. The way hail forms in a thunderstorm can create the conditions for hail to fall in one area while bypassing nearby locations, Jordan said.

Hail starts out as water droplets that cool in the strong updrafts common to thunder storms. Eventually, the super-cooled water becomes ice.

“The ice rotates in the updrafts and it catches more moisture, and gets to be bigger,” Jordan said. “At some point, it becomes too heavy for the updraft and it falls. It’s not unusual for it to fall in a fairly localized area.”

The NWS had issued a storm warning for the Penobscot area from just before 5 p.m. through 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. Jordan said they would like to hear from anyone who saw the hail falling so they could match their on-site observations with the NWS radar images.

The storm also produced thunder and lightning that caused localized damage. At Rackliffe Pottery on Greene’s Hill in Blue Hill, a lightning strike damaged the computers and other equipment.

“There was a loud clap and a flash out on the side of the building, and then another in front of the building,” said Margaret Rackliffe. “The computer went, and the fax and the printer.”

Rackliffe said they went outside to see if there was any damage, but, surprisingly, there was no other damage. Even the phone and answering machine were spared.

“It just seemed to be the Internet stuff,”she said.

Although the computer was a total loss, Rackliffe said they were able to get someone to save the information that was on the machine.

There were additional reports that lightning struck a tree nearby and then dug a tunnel to the home, causing some damage to the home.

There were no other widespread reports of any other damage, according to dispatchers at the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, although another thunderstorm that rumbled through the area on Friday did cause some localized power outages.

There were no reported injuries from the storms.