WENATCHEE, Wash. — The rain and hail storms that blew through Central Washington last week apparently did little damage to tree fruit, and growers say the rain even gave a boost to the wheat growing on the Waterville Plateau.

Rain on June 26 was followed the next afternoon by thunderstorms accompanied by hail. What KING-TV meteorologist Ben Dery called a weak, short-lived “spin-up” tornado was spotted about 10 miles southeast of Waterville.

Hail struck the Wenatchee area for more than five minutes but growers said there was no hail up the valley in Cashmere and Dryden.

Marty Cochran, fieldman for Manson Fruit Cooperative, said the June 27 storm dropped a little soft hail at Green’s Landing with no apparent damage.

Temperatures were in the 70s, low enough that rain damage to cherries was minimal. Hail often doesn’t damage cherries as much as it can apples and pears.

The storms took place between cuttings of alfalfa and Timothy, so they helped the crops, growers said. They were also a non-event for vineyards.

“It sounds like Wenatchee got hit the hardest. Some growers are holding off picking today. Some hail up high but the fruit is still very immature there, so the thinking is we should be OK,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima.

Northwest packers, mainly in Washington, had shipped 7.3 million, 20-pound boxes of cherries June 6-27 with more than 500,000 boxes per day for eight straight days, Thurlby said.

Except for some Wenatchee-area growers taking a day off to let cherries dry, picking was going “like crazy in the Tri-Cities, Yakima, Mattawa and north of Chelan to the Canadian border,” he said.

Norm Gutzwiler, a Wenatchee grower, said he lost less than 1% of his high-elevation cherries to rain and had no hail problems. He said cherries should be fine because light winds followed the storm, helping to dry them. There was no sudden warm-up, which could have impacted the fruit.

Andy Handley in East Wenatchee said hail damage to pears and apples might have occurred in pockets.

Doug Drescher of Orondo said his cherries were not yet ready to pick and that he had no hail, and rain damage was minimal.

Ray Norwood, director of sales and marketing at Auvil Fruit Co. in Orondo, said the company had no damage.

Charles Lyall of Mattawa said he had heavy rain, no hail and little cherry damage.

Ben Kern, an Ellensburg pear grower, said he had a little rain June 26 but nothing on the 27th. “Just threatening clouds,” he said.

Waterville-area wheat growers Steve Thomsen and Gary Polson said growers are happy with what they call “a million-dollar rain.”

It’s an old saying meaning that rain early enough before harvest fills out wheat kernels, increasing yields and hopefully adding $1 million to the total value of area dryland wheat.

Rain in another three weeks would cause wheat kernels to swell and sprout or crack, causing crop loss.

“This is definitely a good event. I was in Coulee City yesterday and everyone was all smiles,” Thomsen said.

He said he didn’t see the short-lived tornado but that his neighbor Billy Cleverly, two miles south, took a picture of it.

The rain “could be the difference between growing a bunch of straw and actually growing wheat,” Polson said with a laugh.

Mike Bromiley, who grows wheat at the 1,500- and 3,500-foot-levels — the first and second benches above East Wenatchee — also said the timeliness of the rain was good.

“I got about eight-tenths of an inch in the last two days, which is really nice for this time of year,” he said.

Central Washington field reporter

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