As we approach the end of the year, we also approach the end of hurricane season. The SoilKit family is no stranger to hurricanes as we suffered immense damage to our office from Hurricane Sally. Most, if not all, of our staff also suffered damage to their homes. We were absolutely heartbroken for the people of the central Gulf coast of Florida when we saw the destruction from Hurricane Ian. While hurricanes are a part of life for those who make their homes along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts, experiencing a natural disaster never gets easy, we just learn how to prepare better. Unfortunately, our environment is being inundated by natural disasters as well, and can’t adequately prepare for the increase in 100-year floods, devastating wildfire, and powerful hurricanes and tornadoes, as quickly as we might think.
Many of SoilKit’s users are in Colorado, California, and other western states who experience devastating wildfires every year. While prescribed, controlled burning can be vital for fire-tolerant ecosystems, wildfires devastate the natural order of things because they burn with a higher intensity. Control burns are usually done when the temperatures are lower, wind speeds are diminished, and humidity and soil moisture are high. These environmental factors help to prevent the damaging effects to the soil that fires produce. Wildfires burn at intensities that can penetrate further into the ground, burning deeper into the soil. The microscopic fungus and bacteria that live in the soil are increasingly burned away the further the heat penetrate into the ground. Without healthy soil, the plants that do remain following a wildfire don’t have a good place to grow, and can struggle to get the nutrients they need. Without healthy roots to hold it in place, the burned soil runs off or is carried away by winds. The destruction caused by wildfires can lead to desertification and irreversibly damage an ecosystem.
Flooding caused by exorbitant rains or storm surges from hurricanes can cause both loss of valuable plant-available nutrients and organic matter, and sediment from floods may increase the level of nitrogen, phosphorus, silicon, and potassium in the soil. Too much or not enough nutrients will lead to unhealthy plants, and healthy plants and roots are vital for maintaining healthy soil. Salt water brought inland from storm surges harms non-salt resistant plants, and can disturb the delicate microbiome of soil not used to dealing with large amounts of salt water. Natural disasters are devastating to the environment because it disrupts natural processes and overwhelms natural cycles.
Tornados are often the hardest natural disaster to predict. They can pop up and disappear in the matter of minutes. The powerful wind speeds of a tornado pick up and rip up everything in their path. Even large trees with established roots are no match for the winds of a tornado. Ripping out large swaths of vegetation in such a quick and powerful way releases carbon into the atmosphere that had been stored in the soil.
So what can you do to help the environment prepare for natural disasters? It’s important to do a soil test every year to understand what’s going on in your soil and to track changes over time. Using SoilKit for your yearly soil test will also take the guesswork out of what nutrients your plants need to grow adequately, thus helping to stabilize the natural cycles that are important to soil health. We should take every chance to help the environment prepare for a natural disaster.