OPINION COLUMNS

Hail to thee, icy pellets of precipitation

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, April 5, 2014

I was pulling out of the parking lot Thursday afternoon at Wise Regional Health System when something hit my windshield.

“Hey!” I exclaimed, looking around for some knucklehead kid, randomly tossing pebbles. (My wife found that very insightful.)

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

Then the roof pinged, then the hood, and for a split second I thought I was under attack from a gang of malicious gravel-chunking squirrels. Then I saw little white ice-balls skittering across the pavement in front of me, gathering on my still-resting wipers.

I was in a hailstorm.

A moment later, I was driving through a torrential downpour, heavy lumps of ice pounding the car, drivers all around careening desperately for the nearest underpass or car wash. No one wants their car to look like it’s been gone over with a ball-peen hammer.

Thursday’s ice shower started out pea-size but quickly graduated to marble- and then quarter-size. I saw a few that approached golf-ball size, but most were smaller – still large enough to pock roofs and cars and make you say “Ow! Ow!” or words to that effect, during that dash for a door.

Fortunately we avoided baseball, softball, bocce-ball, jai alai ball, volleyball or beach ball-sized hail. Even a golf-ball-sized ice missile, hurtling out of the sky at up to 110 mph, can do real damage, as folks in Denton with punctured windshields can attest.

It’s no surprise that when God wanted Egypt to let the Israelites go, one of the plagues he sent was hail. Locusts, frogs, boils and the Nile turned to blood don’t work? Give ‘em hail.

Hail happens when raindrops freeze into ice crystals high up in a swirling thunderstorm. Updrafts keep circulating them back up through the layers of freezing air again and again, and they add more layers, growing until they’re so heavy they fall to earth.

As a lifelong Texan, I’ve seen lots of hailstorms, but a few stand out.

Out in the cotton-farming country where I grew up, when they have enough moisture to plant and get a crop up, the farmer’s biggest fear is not the relentless sun, careless weeds or boll weevils. It’s hail. Hail will pound tender young plants into row upon row of dead sticks.

They call that getting “hailed out” – and it’s bad.

One Sunday evening, my family was at worship in one of those 1960s church buildings with the big A-shaped roofs when a cotton farmer was asked to lead the closing prayer. Just as he started, a hailstorm moved in and for a good five minutes, it pounded the roof with a deafening roar.

He raised his voice, then stopped, started again, looked up, smiled, finally shrugged his shoulders and sat down. I heard somebody say later that it was the first time they’d ever seen a prayer hailed out.

It was a long time before the other farmers in our church let him pray again.

Fast-forward a couple of decades to one of the hottest summers on record. My wife and two girls and I had made the long drive to Ruidoso, N.M., for a family reunion, in the first car we’d ever owned that had a thermometer – a digital readout of the outside temperature.

Most of the way, it was triple-digits. But as we neared Ruidoso, following the Hondo River up the valley, we started seeing more trees, cherry cider stands, signs for ski shops – and the number on that thermometer started dropping.

Finally when we got to the hotel, it was about 50 degrees. Just as we finished putting our stuff in the room, a flash of a summer storm rolled over and left the place white with pea-sized hail. It felt like a miracle – Christmas in August.

Then about 10 years ago, with one of those girls in college and a boy added to the mix, a rare trip to a Mavericks game in Dallas caused us to miss a hailstorm at home. When we returned, our road was strewn with branches and leaves so thick you couldn’t see pavement.

That storm left us needing a new roof and extensive body work on my daughter’s new car. We sucked it up, paid the deductibles and got it all fixed. Just a few weeks later, the car got totaled.

But it’s OK. No people got hurt – and cars and roofs can be fixed.

If it takes a plague of hail to let my people go from the drought, that’s a trade most of us are willing to make.

Bob Buckel is editorial director for the Messenger.

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