Matt's World Of Weather: Crop Circles in Eastern Carolina?

Strange Happenings in Eastern Carolina
Previously, we’ve look at mysterious cloud formations in the sky, but this past week a viewer sent in some pictures of strange patterns in their wheat crop. Take a second to look at the photos and see if you can come up with a reasoning for the designs. I’ll discuss my thoughts, but don’t be surprised if I skew towards something weather related :)

If you want to see the photos that are being referenced, click the slide show to the right or the World of Weather image

Having storm chased in the Great Plains for a couple of years, I’ve seen a number of examples of crop damage from severe weather. First, let’s rule out other weather phenomena that could be responsible.

In the picture it is very easy to notice that there isn’t a lot of damage to the crop besides the bend towards the ground. The bend means something (or someone) evenly distributed pressure to the crops. If this were hail damage, you would come across a lot of broken stems and a not so nice “lay” to the wheat. We can also rule out a tornado because there is a clear path through the crop. Tornado damage would twist the stems and the “damage path” wouldn’t be as uniformed. Conversely, since this isn’t as neat as a traditional crop circle, I would conclude that nature was involved in some way (she doesn’t typically use a ruler). Additionally, we can also clearly see where something started and stopped.

The biggest clue to a possible solution to what made these crop features is in the way the damaged wheat is facing. You’ll notice that on average, the stem/stalk is bent near the roots with the head of the plant facing out towards the trees. This is evidence of direction, but also the magnitude/strength of the force used to shape the wheat. As mentioned earlier, we’re talking about something that was strong enough to bend the wheat forward, but weak enough not to snap it. Meanly something put down the wheat, but continued moving straight ahead.

This isn't the case with all the photos, in fact, the strange pattern in some of the pictures is very interesting and a bit harder to explain. I’ve had the pleasure of discussing the photos with Dick Faurot and Michael Grogan, both are meteorologists where wheat is the largest cash crop, Oklahoma. They both agreed the designs were made by a combination of a strong wind gust taking the path of least resistance and/or poor soil nutrition leading to a weaker crop in some places. Thus, it is my belief that we are looking at crop damage from a microburst. A microburst needs a thunderstorm and looking back through the data there were in fact thunderstorms in the area prior to these photos being taken. Alas, that is just my explanation, what is yours?

*Thank you so much to the Fulcher family for sending in their pictures*

What Others Have Thought (Facebook replies):

Billy Roberts: Yeah wind damage.....sometimes too much nitrogen sprayed on the wheat will cause it to be weak and get blowed down in a thunderstorm

Benda Sherin Adams: locust

Steve Thompson: Wind caused this. I have seen several fields of wheat like this after the storms the Saturday before last (May 5, 2012). I actually shot a short video of wind doing this to a field of wheat as the storm was approaching in Lenoir County.

Cherie Nicole: A barrrel of monkeys and a wrench

Chelsea Dunlow: If you spray to much nitrogen it can cause wheat to become weak. It could easily be caused by wind damage!

Becca N. Terry Smith: some people with rope, boards, and the need of a job

Mary-Beth Ballance Mann: My husband is a farmer in Hyde County and he said that it looks like the wheat might have been planted too thick and the wind caused this.

Charles W. Langston: leprachauns..

And my personal favorite so far….

Robbie Pickens: A gang of deers with boards and rope supervised by bears in the wind.

A Little About Microbursts
The name says it all, but as I mentioned in the video, I prefer to call them “cloud sneezes”. A microburst is a quick burst of air from above that doesn’t stick around for very long, but can pack quiet a punch.

Like any person with a cold can attest to, a sneeze sometimes requires a hankie or a Kleenex. Likewise, a microburst comes in two varieties, dry or, wet. Here in eastern Carolina, we are normally treated to the “I need a Kleenex” wet version of microbursts. They come from sharp temperature contrasts in the atmosphere where all things being equal, warm air rises (just like a hot air balloon) and cold air sinks.

When it comes to a sneezing cloud, rain cools the air and creates our temperature contrast. This air is much colder than the rest of the atmosphere and begins it’s quick ascent downward (opposite of warm is cold, opposite of rising is…falling). The cold air rushes to the ground and quickly pushes outward. It’s at this point that the strongest winds can be registered. Max wind speeds can push 165 mph from the initial impact, but also out from the point of contact. Pretty impressive stuff! So impressive, that even the glass guard at your local buffet couldn’t withstand a sneeze this powerful! Gazuntight.

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