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Freak hail storm pummels fern fields in northwest Volusia County

In World
February 06, 2024

SEVILLE – A hailstorm that “came out of nowhere” Sunday evening dumped ice that collected on the black coverings over his fern fields, collapsing them on acres of greenery ready to be harvested for the Valentine’s Day market.

The “freak storm” as the farmers called it, dumped up to 5 inches of ice in a 300-yard swath leaving acres of covering and twisted rebar on top of leather leaf fern and other plants.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. My dad built this company in 1958, and I am 56, and this is the first time I’ve seen it hail like this,” said Stacy Jones, of Ronald Jones Ferneries on Monday.

Stacy Jones, of Ronald Jones Ferneries in Pierson, stares at a field of black covering on top of ferns that were ready to be harvested for Valentine's Day. A hailstorm on Sunday dumped up to 5 inches of ice in the area bending metal rebar poles like horse shoes and collapsing the shade on the plants.

Stacy Jones, of Ronald Jones Ferneries in Pierson, stares at a field of black covering on top of ferns that were ready to be harvested for Valentine’s Day. A hailstorm on Sunday dumped up to 5 inches of ice in the area bending metal rebar poles like horse shoes and collapsing the shade on the plants.

Jones expected to cut fern from his 48-acre field for his Valentine’s Day harvest in the coming days but on Monday he stared at what looked like a black lake with patches of melting ice instead of greenery.

Across from Jones’s acreages, Dean Hagstrom, of Richard Hagstrom Ferneries, also stood by his 27-acre fernery looking at a black field with ice on it.

Jones and Hagstrom said they are faced with uncertainty on how to build back since their farm insurance company had recently stopped offering coverage for their material.

“As far as I know, there’s nothing available out there for greenhouse coverage. So this is going to be really difficult,” Hagstrom said.

Dean Hagstrom of Richard Hagstrom Ferneries, talks about a hailstorm that dumped up to 5 inches of ice on his fernery's covering collapsing it over plants ready to be harvested for Valentine's Day. On Monday patches of ice could still be seen in 60-degree weather.

Dean Hagstrom of Richard Hagstrom Ferneries, talks about a hailstorm that dumped up to 5 inches of ice on his fernery’s covering collapsing it over plants ready to be harvested for Valentine’s Day. On Monday patches of ice could still be seen in 60-degree weather.

The National Weather Service in Melbourne said Monday they issued multiple severe weather warnings in the areas of Leesburg and Tavares in Lake County but said there was only a marginal risk for Volusia County.

The severe thunderstorms also impacted Flagler County. A band rain moved through the area and officials received multiple reports of pea-sized hail, said Bob Pickering, emergency management specialist for Flagler County.

A few locations had had up to golf ball-sized hail, Pickering said.

Although the NWS said it had received reports of pea-sized and quarter-sized hail in the Leesburg Tavares area, they had no reports of hail or damage in Volusia County, said meteorologist Megan Tollessen.

Battling the freeze West Volusia farmers battle cold temps to save fern, blueberry crops

Rain of hail

The band of weather from the Lake County area is what moved into Volusia County bringing a “rain of hail,” Jones said.

Jones said he went to his fernery Sunday night after his daughter told him “it was bad,” but could not really see the extent of the damage because of thick fog created by the blanket of ice.

“It had been 70 degrees during the day and it went down to 45 degrees in a matter of minutes because of the ice,” Jones said. “And because of the temperature change, the fog set in and you couldn’t see five feet ahead of you.”

Tons of ice from a hailstorm Sunday collapsed covering on acres of fernery in Seville, covering plants that were ready to be harvested for the Valentine's Day market.

Tons of ice from a hailstorm Sunday collapsed covering on acres of fernery in Seville, covering plants that were ready to be harvested for the Valentine’s Day market.

Valentine’s Day is the biggest selling holiday for fern growers, so Jones was preparing to harvest. Also, Jones had just finished rebuilding all his shade damaged by past hurricanes investing at least $400,000 to cover his greenery.

As daylight came in, Jones was able to better see the damage and it stunned him, he said.

“It was just sickening,” Jones said. “You put in all the hard work that we do and it’s just sickening to see this.”

Fern ready to be harvested for Valentine's Day damaged when tons of ice from a hailstorm Sunday collapsed covering on top of the plants

Fern ready to be harvested for Valentine’s Day damaged when tons of ice from a hailstorm Sunday collapsed covering on top of the plants

Hagstrom was out in his fields when the storm started Sunday and as the hail started he sought shelter when it started pelting his tractor.

Hagstrom said the hail storm lasted 10 to 12 minutes. He then went down the road and started taking pictures of the ice on the covering and then he came to the area where the storm had dumped tons of ice.

“I looked and that whole fernery was just down, just couldn’t believe it,” Hagstrom said. “The swath right through here was 300 yards, 400 yards. It just was heavy, heavy. I mean it was, it was four or five inches deep in the whole road.”

Big financial hit

David Register, a director of the Volusia County Farm Bureau, and executive vice-president of Fern Trust, Inc., said he is aware of minor damages in other fields but Jones and Hagstrom experienced the most severe damage.

“It was pretty locally localized on the ferneries on Cowart Road,” Register said. “I’ve never seen a fernery flattened by ice like that before, That’s pretty unique.”

Register said he could imagine how Jones and Hagstrom would start rebuilding.

Jones said he could estimate the cost of lost produce but said it is “astronomical.” That’s in addition to the cost of covering, labor and other materials needed to rebuild the shades.

Hagstorm said it would be at least $25,000 worth of covering per acre, not including labor.

Jones’s fernery had metal support poles that were bent in the shape of horseshoes. He will need to replace 144 poles per acre to put up new shade.

“Mother nature surely knows how to humble you,” he said.

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Florida farmers’ fields damaged by hail storm

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