Gardens of the Cross Timbers: It was hail

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
Hail beginning to fall

Luck of the Irish happened the evening of May 3. When I looked directly south, there was a cloud bank with waves of frontrunners coursing ahead of it. The southwest sky had few clouds and lots of blue. The radar in motion indicated the developing storm would travel to the east of my house.

After supper we decided to take a walk. The threatening cloud had expanded to the southwest. The menacing entity roared and grumbled as if hungry. Still, radar indicated the more organized storm would miss us. There was this one troubling protrusion which looked like a finger, probably middle finger, coming out west from the storm. The walk completed, we stood outside and watched the lightning show accompanied by increasing claps of thunder. The wind was gusty. No worry. It’s going to miss us.

Sitting in the front room, it seemed the wind died down. I heard a bang, then another louder bang. Going to the door, I saw a hailstone on the welcome mat in front of the door. The round ice chunk was the size of a round 50-cent piece, the white inside wrapped in a clear layer of ice. The wind returned with a vengeance as more and more balls of ice began to fall all over the yard, walkway and rolled onto the porch. Leaves were being slammed out of trees and for a minute, the air took on a shimmery three-dimensional appearance in greens and whites. No rain, just hailstones anywhere from pea-size to those of ping pong balls. The thunder claps were equally matched by the sound of descending hail. After four minutes of bombardment, torrential rains arrived. Think waterfall. The walkway was a mini-creek with floating ice balls and leaves. Over an inch of rain fell within minutes.

Next morning, the broom was needed to sweep away over two inches of wet leaves packed on the sidewalk. Several plants had taken direct hits and were lying crumpled on the ground. Tomatoes had their tops and many leaves forcibly removed. Bee balms (Monarda sp.) were decapitated. Every leaf of one Hosta had a hole in it. Sunflowers bit the dust, but other sunflowers and plants remained upright looking sad. Stems were stripped of leaves or had broken leaves. You get the picture.

The morning after

The CoCoRAHs (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network) hail report was sent at 9:20 p.m. after the hail had ended. An mPING (Meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground) alert was also posted. Looking at the radar, mPING hail reports stretched from Tecumseh to Pawnee. That night, hail the size of dimes to baseballs fell along a narrow band along the west side of the line of severe storms.

Cleanup revealed plenty of plant damage, but some were lucky and managed to escape being pulverized. So many leaves came down. Precipitation: 1.58 inches. Husband’s car: $5,300 hail damage estimate. Baby: no visible damage. Can’t underestimate the durability of a well-built solid classic like her.

Is spring over yet?

Could the arrangement of the tree branches help protect the trees themselves and plants below during the ice ball storm? Leonardo da Vinci studied and drew trees. He noticed the cross section of all tree branches above a branching point is equal to the cross section of the trunk below. Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Rule of Trees’ has been studied and debated over 500 years (Leonardo da Vinci lived from 1452 to 1519). Theoretically speaking, if all the branches of a tree could be squished together along the trunk, the tree would be the same width bottom to top.

When one looks at a tree, a series of repeating patterns often emerge. Each branch looks like a smaller version of the tree from which it grows. The types of shapes from these smaller versions are fractals, repeating geometric patterns that continue to infinity or beyond, as Buzz Lightyear liked to say. You have seen all the Toy Story movies, yes? Graphic artists use fractals when generating digital art and animations, such as designing computer trees.

Nature is really into math. Leaves on plants, bananas, and even pinecones often follow a ratio called the Fibonacci sequence. Each number is the sum of the previous two numbers—1,1,2,3,5,8,13 and so on. Often called The Golden Ratio which is 1.618, each number is about 1.618 times the preceding number, beginning past number one. The Fibonacci series is seen in plants as curving spirals going both clockwise and counterclockwise—the arrangement of scales on the pineapple fruit or seeds in a sunflower. The repeating spiral sequences are fractals.

Take a tree. No, don’t. Leave the tree and look at it. The trunk grows until it produces a branch. There are now two growth points, tip of trunk and branch. The trunk continues to grow taller and produces another branch. Three growth points. The trunk and first branch produce two more branches or growth points, bringing the total to 5. Growth continues. The Fibonacci series in action. Orchid flowers show the ratio with one main center petal, two side center petals and three center petals. It’s all about maximizing growth, assuring reproduction and packing it all together in the most efficient way possible. Nature has it all figured out.

A few stones

Another example is the human body. The Fibonacci sequence is seen in one nose, two eyes, three segments to each limb, five fingers on each hand, even the spiral in our inner ears.

Back to Leonardo. The composition and design of “The Last Supper” was based on divine proportion (The Golden Ratio). One table, one central figure, two side walls, three windows, figures grouped in threes and five groups of figures, eight panels on the wall, eight table legs and thirteen individuals.

Was the Fibonacci series involved in the hail event? One complex cloud, two rotating opposing columns of air, three claps of thunder, five bolts of lightning, eight weather warnings, thirteen storm chasers, twenty-one mPING hail images, thirty-four hail stones per square foot….. Probably.

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at