At first, Doug Karcher didn't think much of the storm that blew through the University of Arkansas campus late in the day on July 16. Then he looked across a field at the three structures that protect some of the trials being conducted there. When he saw only two of them, he knew it was time to start worrying.
The steel support structures and anchors were damaged on two of the structures. The third was ripped from its moorings and hurled into a grove of walnut trees more than 50 yards from its original location.
The damage, which included a fence surrounding a newly constructed tennis center, was estimated between $60,000 and $65,000 and forced Karcher and Mike Richardson to cancel their bi-annual field day scheduled for July 25.
"The crazy thing about it was it was so localized and isolated," Karcher said. "A quarter-mile away in another building on campus, you had no idea there was any damage occurring.
"The tennis court fence was the first thing I noticed, and that wasn't too bad. Then I saw the structures. I saw one, then another and one was missing. It snapped the cables anchoring it into the ground and blew the structure 60 yards into a grove of walnut trees. It was a catastrophe."
More importantly, the damage compromised some drought-tolerance research being conducted by master's candidate Tyler Carr.
His NTEP trial on drought tolerance of Kentucky bluegrasses and tall fescues that was supposed to last for 100 days was halted after 42 days because the structure above it collapsed. He will resume the study next year and will include this year's partial data in his findings for his master's thesis.
"We'll start collecting data again in 2019," he said.
"I can at least report what we found so far. After I'm gone, maybe they can keep that project going for another season so they can publish a manuscript on the data. At least I have enough to report for my thesis."
His second trial on the effects of deficit irrigation on Kentucky bluegrass was interrupted when the top ripped on another structure. Fortunately, that whole in the plastic prevented the wind from causing even more damage or destroying the structure entirely. The top already has been replaced, and work on that study has resumed.
"One project was temporarily halter, and one just hit a speed bump. It's frustrating, but it's out of our control," Carr said. "It's not something that is going to affect whether I graduate, so it's not something I can fret over."
The every-other-year field day has been rescheduled for 2019.
"I told Tyler that sometimes conducting research is tough," Karcher said. "More often than not, you have to go through a lot of hurdles before you get good quality data you can use for a paper. Hopefully, we'll get good data next year.
"We're just grateful no one was out there when this happened. It would have destroyed anything in its path."