Left counting the cost, farmers mop up after freak storm

The real cost of Wednesday's extreme storm cell won't be known for days


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Agronomist and farmer Ben Hawken reckons this week was the closest to Alice in Wonderland he’ll ever see.

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AGRONOMIST and farmer Ben Hawken reckons this week was the closest to Alice in Wonderland he’ll ever see.

At least two storm cells came together at Cookamidgera, about 15 kilometres south east of Parkes on Wednesday.

“Just before it hit there was clouds blowing in three different directions,” said Mr Hawken.

He had about 360 hectares of crop in, barley, wheat and grazing canola.

He says he’s now looking at about 50 to 70 per cent damage and a third of the wheat might be worth putting a header through but otherwise, “you won’t get anything unless you’ve got a Dyson”.

Over the next 10 days it will be wait and watch to determine just how much damage there is, as bruising reveals itself.

Bruce Patten, “Ghin Ghin”, Trundle was devastated in the storm’s aftermath. 

“Ghin Ghin” is homebase for a 2100ha aggregation, where Bruce and his family run 1200 Merino and 300 first-cross ewes.

 It’s about 30 kilometres west of Trundle.

The storm struck his place just before dark and continued well into the night.

”The ice should still be around for a couple of days I think,” he said on Friday morning.

“The ice mixed with debris is knee deep in places and we had 125 millimetres in about two hours.

“The hail smashed the rain gauge, but our neighbour down the road got 95mm and I’m sort of going on that, but it was certainly a bit more than that.

The hail lasted only about half-an-hour, but it did extreme damage.

“It started lightly but turned into golf ball-size and worse. I’ve been cruising around and it has done a fair bit of damage in the area.”

Counting the cost as he went, Mr Patten said fences were damaged from gully-raking and a buildup of hail channelling water and debris into places it wouldn’t normally go.

“The hail sort of formed a contour bank and the run-off went where it wouldn’t normally.”

He said 70 seven to eight-week-old lambs running with their mothers were frozen to death – “I can only imagine that the mums got out,” he said.

“They were in a 120ha paddock with a really high aspect, but they must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“They all washed into a corner, stuck in the deep hail and just froze to death I think.

“They couldn’t get out and hypothermia set in I reckon.”

He said Local Land Services was coming to assess the situation.

He said the winds were so strong they busted windows and skylights in the woolshed and tore flyscreens off doors.

There was another oat crop wiped out nearby, it had been heading and was to be harvested.

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There are unconfirmed reports of 500 ewes killed in the Trundle area.

On Friday hailstones were still lying about, in the debris.

“When you scrape the top off you can see the hail within,” said Mr Patten. “It’s deceiving, you see a heap, but when you step onto it, you can hear and feel the crunch of hail under your boots.

“I reckon it will still be here Saturday morning.”

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