Weather, Weather ––
Everybody Has Some
Yes, I know. I boldly predicted back in mid-February that spring was just around the corner. And for a change, I was correct, sort of!
But I, in my effervescent hopes and dreams of early daffodils, wild plum and Hawthorne trees full of early beautiful blooms, to be soon followed by striking red buds and dogwoods – I tend to forget that the Ozarks Plateau grudgingly yields its toast to winter.
There are still mornings of 24º followed by blustery days of 58º. Fifty-eight degrees does not sound bad except that it takes all day to get there for about 15 minutes, and then shortly thereafter, the temperature starts dropping as the sun dips below the western facing ridges.
So far this spring has produced fewer than average sucker runs because of the general lack of high water in area streams. In fact, for the most part, after the Christmas holiday, the Ozarks has been uncommonly dry.
On Easter weekend, and for the 36th year in a row, our group of Frances River Runners set up our riverside camp at the old Silver Mine Campsite in Mark Twain National Forest, at the end of the four-mile whitewater run of Tiemann Shut-Ins.
This year was special. We set the float up as a memorial to our recently departed stepson, son, brother, and all-round good and gentle guy, Erec Hambelton. The group consisted of about 20 people, with many my own extended family, plus others from Kansas City and St. Louis that show up on the river every Easter weekend.
At the age of 40, Erec died in the typical one-car fatality accident in the Ozarks. He veered off of a familiar but poorly marked “farm to market” paved highway, and apparently overcorrected, went across the road, and struck a steep embankment, which ejected him from the vehicle and killing him instantly.
When the phone rings at 3 a.m. and you finally awaken and glance at the caller ID and it says, “MSHP” on it, you immediately know the call is not going to be full of good news. And, as a lawyer for 43 years, I’ve had a few of these calls. Yet nothing can prepare you for the “ultimate” phone call from a very professional and compassionate trooper.
I gave the trooper directions to the home of Erec’s mother, and let him fulfill the final task of his difficult job.
Would the young man have survived had he been wearing his seatbelt? Undoubtedly, it would have improved his odds. It doesn’t matter now – he’s gone. But I like to compare a bad car wreck to a bad whitewater crash on the river. Stay with your “vehicle” and you have a better chance of surviving.
That is why advanced canoeists and kayakers are taught how to roll their boat in moving water, but if you do come out of your boat, know what awaits immediately down-stream. If “ejected,” hold your paddle with one hand and the boat with the other. Always keep the boat downstream from your body in order that you do not get pinned against a log, drift or boulder.
And, do not try to stand up in a mid-river boulder filled stream. Foot entrapment can occur and people have drowned in less than five-feet of water.
In fact several years ago, a friend’s daughter drowned in the Copper River delta outside Cordova, Alaska. The young woman had been kayaking down the Copper and when she got to the delta, her boat got seriously stuck on sandy, mud flats at low tide. Instead of waiting a few hours for the tide to roll back in and loosen her craft, she exited her boat in an unsuccessful attempt to hike to shore. Unfortunately, her feet became stuck in the muddy quicksand, and with the eleven-foot rise in tide, she drowned when she could probably almost reach out and touch the receding shoreline.
These tales are sad and gruesome. They point to the rule that boating solo is not usually a good idea although I have frequently and foolishly violated this rule myself. The only silver lining is this: we can learn and profit from other people’s mistakes.
Last year, the St. Francis River was running to the height of the Old “D” Highway Bridge at a high and roaring level of between 27 and 32 inches, a powerful and pushy level, moving with treacherous currents.
This year, it was totally opposite. The Francis was crystal clear, and while the river gauge read from zero to minus two-inches (you can run it down to minus nine-inches), the river was narrow, tricky and gentle, but still very technical with rocks and mid-course boulders every-where.
A good time was had by all and on Saturday evening and in front of a roaring campfire, we toasted Erec while lamenting his absence on a river that he loved to kayak. He will be missed by his friends and family. Now, he rests at Eaton Cemetery in Ozark County beneath a green tombstone with the image of a kayak emblazoned on it.
By the way, while I am not a “lake” person, I understand that the white bass are hitting at their usual upstream sloughs. And a friend of mine recently hooked onto and caught a really nice almost record-sized hybrid near Tecumseh. A hybrid is a nice joining of a striped bass with a white bass.
So get out and enjoy spring. The rivers are running, the white bass are stirring, the gobblers are calling, and the morels are making their annual spring appearance.
Note: While we are on a weather theme, I can recall several instances where weather had a huge influence on military campaigns.
The earliest campaign that comes to mind is when early winter storms, that Roman legions mistakenly believed would block Hannibal’s route through the Italian Alps mountain passes, meant a successful invasion of Italy by the wily and able military leader, Hannibal.
The second weather phenomenon that comes to mind occurred in the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee on the Tennessee River at Pittsburgh Landing in April 1862.
The southern troops of the Army of Mississippi were commanded by the most able Confederate leader in the “Western Campaign,” General Albert Sidney Johnston. Johnston and his second in command General Beauregard had joined forces at Corinth, Mississippi, and planned to attack Ulysses Grant at Shiloh Church just north of the Mississippi line in Tennessee. They had a combined Confederate force of over 50,000 troops.
The attack on Grant’s lesser Union force of 44,000 men, which had been scheduled to begin April 5, 1862, was delayed for one-day by torrential rains. The local roadways turned to a slick, slimy mess and a lot of the Confederate powder had gotten damp also.
On the other hand, because of the rising Tennessee River, Grant was pushed into a poor peninsular position next to the river, and General Don Carlo Buell’s Union force of 25,000 men from the Army of the Cumberland had been delayed from joining up with Grant.
On April 6, 1862, the Southern attack caught Grant off-guard and he was nearly overrun by Confederates. Unfortunately for the South, late on the first day of battle, General A.S. Johnston was severely wounded in his lower leg, and he basically bled to death, falling from his horse just before dark.
That night, in the early morning hours of April 7, General Buell’s forces arrived at Shiloh, and now the combined force was approaching 70,000 troops, an overwhelming and superior force. Beauregard, who was now in command of Southern forces, panicked and made a poorly led retreat back to Corinth, Mississippi.
The Battle of Shiloh was significant in several regards. First, and most importantly, this was the largest battle of the Civil War so far. By the end of the second day of battle, the Federals had suffered 13,000 casualties and the South lost around 9,500 men. There was more American blood spilled at Shiloh than in all previous battles of the Civil War, Revolutionary War, and French and Indian War combined! Both the North and the South were horrified at such losses.
Twice during his military career, Ulysses Grant was close to being removed from command. The first time was at Shiloh. The second time would occur two years later at the battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia. At the sight, Grant led a poorly formed attack against a well-defended Southern hillside in an attempt to reach the Confederate capital at Richmond.
Gen. Robert E. Lee stopped this bloody assault with a loss of 3,000 men that he could ill afford to lose in June of 1864. But Grant’s losses exceeded 6,500 men and Northern papers branded him as the “Butcher of Cold Harbor.”
Also, the Battle of Shiloh meant that the South had effectively lost the “Western Campaign” of the Civil War.
The final memory of weather affecting military command decision occurred in “Operation Overlord,” the secret Allied code/name for the planned D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944.
By 1944, the Allied Command under General Dwight Eisenhower had crashed the secret radio codes of Nazi Germany. And the Allies, thanks mainly to British scientists, had established radar superiority.
By early June 1944, Hitler knew the Allied forces were intending to invade France in the area of Normandy, but he didn’t know where in Normandy. And, both sides knew a vicious Atlantic Ocean storm was slated to hit the French coast, beginning June 4, 1944.
But because of the superior radar technology and military weather forecasting in possession of Allies, the German foes were unaware that a slight lessening of the storm would allow Eisenhower to launch the historic D-Day invasion on the European continent at dawn June 6, 1944. The Germans had believed the weather was so bad no effective invasion could occur at the time. In addition, the foul weather prevented German air and naval patrols from sighting the massive Allied invasion force until it was too late to effectively move Nazi troops into proper defensive positions.
However, in addition to those men lost on the beaches of Normandy, another group of the Allied forces incurred severe losses as well. Because of stronger than normal prevailing westerly winds, many paratroopers actually landed in harm’s way, behind German lines, and casualty losses approached 50 percent.
This was still less than the 2/3-loss-rate some Allied generals had predicted.
Less than one year later, the European theater of World War II ended in victory for the Allies –– only to be followed by a 44-year period of Cold War, between the former Allies.
Now, get up and go enjoy our beautiful Ozark Outdoors!