Adventures in Prairielands

Posted by Karen in Work.
Tuesday, August 1st, 2006 at 9:22 pm

I arrived last night in Sioux City, Iowa, not to be confused with Sioux Falls, SD, which we did, resulting in a 30-40 mile detour. Today was our first day of field work at the first of four sites we will be working in, Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve.

The project we are working on is looking at the effects of a biological control for leafy spurge. Leafy spurge is a non-native invasive species in tall grass prairies, very bad for many reasons. Herbicide used to be the main way of combating leafy spurge, but those chemicals have some pretty serious environmental ramifications. Many places are now using beetles that eat leafy spurge as a control method. This project is trying to find out how effective the beetles have been in reducing the amounts of leafy spurge, and how the rest of the plant community is responding.

In a nutshell, we have to locate the plots, measure out 6 radii from the center point at 60 degree intervals, and then find 3 rectangular quadrats along each one. Then I count all the leafy spurge plants in each quadrat, and Lane, the super smart botanist heading up this project, identifies all of the plants in each quadrat.

I had been told how it was going to be unbelievably hot and dry the entire time, and most likely even worse than usual because the whole region is in a serious drought. So imagine our surprise when we had sporadic rain showers this morning! It did get a little toasty after that, but then the clouds started to return. Lane finished her part of the last plot of the day, and I was trying hard to finish my part when I noticed a pretty big, pretty dark, and pretty weird looking cloud mass approaching. I kept pressing on, but Lane suddenly called to me and said we should probably head for the car. No sooner had she finished her sentence than rain started coming down.

We got everything loaded and got in, debating whether we should wait it out. And then the wind, thunder and lightning started. We decided that being on top of a ridge was probably not the best place to be, so we headed for lower ground. The wind got crazier and crazier, trees were getting whipped around, and we were afraid we were either going to get hit by one or that the van we were in would get blown over. There was no good place for us to be in the van, and all signs were pointing to tornado, so we bailed and ran for the ditch. Rain was pelting down and the wind was whipping from all directions. We crawled sideways through the ditch until we got to a position that was further from both the van and the trees, laid flat and held on to whatever grass and shrubs we could. It. was. crazy. We could just barely hear a siren going off somewhere in the distance. We waited there, shivering hard in the pouring rain, for what seemed like a long freaking time. Finally the lightning seemed to be getting a little further away and the wind died down a little, so we crawled out of the ditch and were sooo happy to see the van still there!

We got back to our hotel and tried to turn the heat on, but it smelled like burning and set the fire alarm off. Luckily, hot showers and pizza did the trick. Now we just finished watching "Storm Stories" on the Weather Channel, and we suddenly feel like maybe our little adventure wasn’t so bad. Still, as far as first days go it was kind of a doozy!

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6 Responses to “Adventures in Prairielands”

  1. nator Says:

    Um… One of the computers broke in the Walker’s Dialog Table and I spent all day trying to fix it, including going outside while it was raining.

    …but I guess I can’t compete with hiding in a ditch with a huge storm blowing all around me. Whoa!! Stay safe, but wow, so far this sounds like a pretty sweet project! :)

  2. MJ Says:

    Wow, when you say “adventures in prairielands” you really mean it–but then never knew you to do things the easy way. I’ve ridden out two tornadoes in my life time–fortunately was in the house both times. Thanks heavens you all realized what was happening and got out of the van–and good that the van was still there and OK so you didn’t have to walk back.
    It sure sounds like you’re involved in an interesting project there–but try to avoid those storms again–mom has enough gray hair already!

  3. Rick Says:

    K – Those prairie storms can be incredible. Kind of a love to see the power of nature, but not quite too close kind of sentiment. I’m excited to talk to you about your project. I work with Refuges who are also trying to combat leafy spurge, so your project is very pertinent. Hope you get to see some other native plants too and some good birds during your outings. You did bring binocs and a bird book, right?!?!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Daddy is very happy you’re OK

  5. Madeline Says:

    Ok, because nothing bad happened to you, I can say this. THAT IS SO SCARY AWESOME! You are my hero.

  6. steve Says:

    that’s so kewl and exciting sounding – and kind of scary – when hiding in a ditch in a downpour do you think of flash floods coming through? The power of nature, as Rick said,whew – so awesome.