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Horses and Tornadoes

Horses and Tornadoes

Tornado by airwaves1

In the last two years we’ve experienced several violent spring storms come through east Tennessee and are starting to refer to spring as “tornado season.” We’re looking forward to the end of winter but not to the scary part of spring. It’s bad enough to not know when and if a tornado is coming but having horses makes it worse because they could be far out in pasture, they aren’t easy to move quickly and they don’t fit in the basement or the bathtub.

There were 936 tornadoes in the U.S. in 2012, according to NOAA/National Weather Service. And while some areas are at much higher average risk, all states are at risk. This map is a little old (1950-2005) but gives a quick visual idea of where tornadoes can occur.

US Tornadoes 1950-2005 map

So what should we do with our horses during a tornado threat?

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Lucky to be alive

Lucky to be alive

Storm Radar MapBy now you’ve heard about or experienced first hand the large and unusual storm system that raked through the south last Wednesday (4/27/11). A week ago today, we strolled outside to discover the damage caused by severe thunderstorms that went on and on from around 4 PM through midnight. Yesterday we learned that nine tornadoes were officially recorded in our small east Tennessee county alone, knocking down trees and power lines, destroying homes and barns and in some cases killing people and livestock. I’ve never seen a storm like that. It was one serious thunderstorm after another for almost eight hours straight. At one point the wind blew so ferociously my family and I grabbed blankets and pillows and took cover in the center of our house, away from windows. We’d return to that spot a few times that night, as the wind howled and local radio stations and Twitter updates warned that strong cells were approaching, hail was on the way or apparent tornadoes were on the ground and moving fast. It was scary and exhausting.

Storm Damage
A hickory tree crashed through one of our sheds, crushing our lawn tractor and other things.

It took days for us to assess the full impact of the storm. News reports showed the terrible destruction in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where we camped two weeks prior and in Ringgold, Georgia, not far from where we live and a town we frequent on trips to Atlanta. There was a lot of damage locally, too. In fact in our own back yard we lost our workshop (pictured above) when a large hickory tree succumbed to the wind and saturated ground. 45 degrees to the right of where that tree fell was the room we were in at the time. It most certainly would have crushed us. It may seem dramatic to say it but we feel lucky to be alive today.

I haven’t mentioned our horses yet because they were fine in the barn. Well, fine is a relative term. Our horses don’t seem to mind storms much except for Moonshine. I periodically peeked out the back door and saw her nervously watching and pacing in her stall. We worried about the barn but it’s the age old question in storms: Are horses safer in the barn or on their own, where maybe they could run away, if needed? We prefer them in the barn. Besides avoiding them being pelted with the over five inches of rain that fell that night, they were relatively safe from tree debris and we didn’t have to worry about them escaping through a downed fence due to fallen trees. Four of our neighbors trees fell over our fence and we lost about 20 other trees in other parts of the pasture. But the horses were safe in the barn…this time. In storms like this, horse owners have a lot to worry about.

If you have any trees on your property and don’t already have one, trust me on this – you need a chainsaw. Maybe two. For the next several days, we spent many hours clearing fallen trees with chainsaws. Sometimes one got stuck in a pinched tree, requiring the use of a second chainsaw to free it. It’s not just major storms. Trees die and fall. We may not use it often but a chainsaw is an invaluable tool at our place. You don’t want to be trying to buy one when they’re in demand, such as after a storm like this (none were to be found).

We feel for those who have lost lives, family, animals or property in the storm last week. Did this storm touch you or your family? Have you heard about any horse rescues?

Trapped by sudden storms

Trapped by sudden storms

There was a slight chance of rain and the sky looked a little darker than usual for 5 PM but as I headed up to the barn to feed the horses I had no idea I was about to be trapped. I poured feed into buckets as the spigot was opened changing the light drizzle to a downpour. Our horses don’t seem to care about being wet but I rushed to get them in so I could remain as dry as possible. Our barn has a metal roof that seems to magnify the sound of rain so it sounds like hail. Soon the rain was followed by hail and the wind whipped through the open center aisle as I took cover in the hayloft. I wasn’t going anywhere. Fortunately, the storm lasted only 10 minutes which gave me time to think about how often this happens to me in east Tennessee. We sure get a lot of rain here. I learned a long time ago to always bring a phone but no one could hear me over that racket so I resorted to texting to let my family know where I was. And then I just sat there and watch the rain and muddy torrent of water rush down our hilled pasture. I need to work on erosion control.

Pasture erosion after storm

Of course, I also needed to put out a few round bales of hay so once the rain stopped, I hopped into our tractor and made my way downhill in the newly slick mud. Interestingly I had almost no control in two-wheel drive going downhill. I know the key is to keep moving (though not too fast) but the front tires acted like snowmobile skids. Going uphill was no possible in 2wd, even with the rear axle locked (so both tires would spin at the same time). If you like in a place with clay soil and some elevation, don’t let anyone try to convince you that you only need a 2wd tractor. We use 4wd in our tractor very often. For more information about that, click the 4wd tag on this post.

Have you been trapped in your barn or shed by storms like this?

Storms and Tornadoes

Storms and Tornadoes

Old damaged barn
Photo by Richard Burlton on Unsplash

Our condolences to those who lost loved ones, pets and property in the violent storms that rolled across the south in the past 24 hours. MSNBC is reporting 52 people confirmed killed as a result of the storm. I was looking at the photos of the wreckage in Tennessee a few minutes ago and noticed a photo of two people hugging next to destroyed property. A few feet away sits what looks like a saddle. It reminded me that storms like this can happen almost anywhere in the country. If a tornado hit, what would you do? There is very little any of us could do because there isn’t much time to react, if any. Seek shelter. But what about the horses? Sadly, I think there is little to nothing we could do to prepare our horses for tornadoes. I once saw a show on the Discovery Channel (about peculiar homes) where a couple had their barn underground. Maybe that would help but who can do that really?

I suppose the best we can learn from this is to be prepared. Think of options in advance. Where would you go, where would you take your horses if your barn was destroyed, what would you do it your fence was down and your horses got out, etc. And perhaps have supplies in stock to help others if a storm spares you but not your neighbors.

By the way, we’re in far east Tennessee and best I can tell the majority of in-state damage was in the far west section of the state. Thanks to those of you who contacted us for a welfare check, though.

Note: the photo above is Richard Burton on photo site Unsplash and is not directly related to this particular storm.