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     Hailstorm: “Hail falls in narrow swaths and streaks, which makes it seem vindictive and personal.” – Jonathan Raban, author

The photo told the story, or much of it.

A shattered front window filled the dash and vehicle’s interior with hundreds of fragments of glass. Ragged shards worked their way into the air conditioning system, so that when the fan was activated the vents spit out slivers of sharp, flying glass.

Baseball-sized hail destroyed the sun roof, and the exterior of the black Suburban resembled some new lunar design, complete with craters.

The few minutes of last week’s havoc killed two zoo animals, injured 14 people and heavily damaged hundreds of vehicles, totaling some of them. The good news is that only George, aged 3, suffered a direct hit on his shoulder as the family retreated back to the confines of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs.

Our youngest daughter and her family live in the Black Hills, so they are all too familiar with one of nature’s most violent and destructive forces. Taking a direct hit while on a family summer vacation may seem unfair, but hail is unpredictable. In fact, it often seems to favor fields that are uninsured, or those farmers who can least afford the setback.

Growing up in Lyman County, I’d seen what hail could do to wheat fields in July, right before harvest. I recall standing with my dad late one summer’s day and he was squinting northwest, past the cupola atop the old barn, closely watching the gray, scalloped clouds and feeling the temperatures plummet from the 90s to the 60s in a matter of a few minutes.

“Someone’s getting hail,” he said with a grimace, looking south of the Medicine Buttes, and he was right. The next morning brought reports of hail west and north, taking large swaths of what had been ripe, golden wheat and pounding it into the ground.

Farmers in the Great Plains have always faced the cruel side of Mother Nature. Blizzards, drought, blistering heat and killing cold. Hail, however, can take a toll as devastating as any force of nature, and it works in a hurry.

State Farm Insurance said South Dakota has more home claims per capita from hail than anywhere.

Eight years ago, a Lyman County outpost, Vivian, pop. 119, recorded the largest hailstone in U.S. history. It weighed nearly 2 pounds, was 8 inches in diameter and was the size of a volleyball.

It was a dubious accomplishment, as Andy Warhol once said, to claim 15 minutes of world-wide fame.

Aug. 15, 2018