A day to remember, stories of the tornado

PHOTO CAPTION: “Stand back, I’ll protect you.” As if watching the tornado, the statues at Cornie Shelling’s place just west of Martin keep their silent vigil. Although it appears to be quite near, the tornado, shown toward the end of its run, was actually close to 12 miles away. The twister could be seen for miles in every direction. More photos can be seen on the Booster’s Facebook page.

By Marj Frew

An F1 tornado which touched down west on Martin on Saturday, June 29, has been the topic of discussion at every local gathering in the past few days.

While at a baseball game in Valentine on Sunday, I overheard two people mention it. I just happened to have my favorite photos on my phone, so I shared the information I had with them.

The same thing happened at a birthday party later in the day. It has been the hottest topic on social media, with photos and videos being shared on many platforms.

Every casual conversation in Martin has included each person’s own version of where they were when they saw it, where they watched from, how they took shelter, and many other interesting side stories.

My first photo of the storm was taken before the funnel began forming. I was on the east side of Martin, and noticed the building clouds, and took a few photos just because they looked interesting.

A few stray bolts of lightning were hitting far to the north, and I hoped it wouldn’t get close enough to stop the Suicide Awareness activities going on at the city park.

About 15 minutes after taking my first photo, while visiting with a group of riders on the north side of the park, I noticed a small little dip in the clouds, and took a quick picture. 

At this time it became apparent that the little downspout was actually developing, so I immediately drove to the ASCS office parking lot on the west edge of town, as this is my favorite spot for getting sunset photos with a clear view to the west.

Just before I arrived there, my phone alarm for the tornado warning sounded. When I had a clear view of the horizon, I could see the development of the twister’s dirt on the ground. At this time the city’s tornado sirens began their solid blast.

It was difficult to judge how far away the developing tornado was, but I knew it was far enough away that I didn’t need to seek shelter.

Many people in the community did seek shelter in the basement of the Legion Gym, or in basements of their own homes.

Bennett County’s Law Officers and Emergency personnel kicked into high gear, with the blocking of Highway 18 heading west being one of their first moves.

Martin City Police took over the road block as the County law personnel moved further west to assist in traffic control.

Emergency Manager Jeff Siscoe and some Martin Volunteer Fire crew were very close to the scene, evaluating the storms movement and power.

Several local county residents were notified and evacuated, mostly to Boomdock’s corner, and eventually to Martin.

I continued taking pictures from the safe distance where I was, and when I could tell it was dissipating, I moved further down the highway going west, until I reached the Allen Road.

This was still blocked by Bennett County, with the help of a State patrolman. The exact location of the tornado was not yet known, although they had a very good idea of where it was.

The actual development of the tornado was of special interest to Bennett County Emergency Manager Jeff Siscoe. He and his wife, Shelly, were on the scene very quickly, and were surprised at the lack of rain with the storm. They were able to get rather close, where they shot some video footage and took pictures before it became unsafe. Toward the end of the video, Jeff can be heard telling Shelly, “Jump in!”

They retreated to a safe distance where they assisted the fire crew and kept watch over the situation.

Bennett County Emergency Manager Jeff Siscoe’s recount

While visiting with Jeff in his courthouse office on Monday morning, he was able to explain many of the scientific details and other events related to the tornado.

Most of the physical damage of the tornado occurred on the farm owned by Robert and Jean Nash. It was formerly owned by Gloria Claussen, and is located north of Swett, and south of Allen.

The house was unoccupied at the time of the storm. The Nash’s use it as a cabin, and are not there full time. The inside of the house sustained damage from broken glass, water and mud.

Jeff pointed out details of the photos he had from the Firemen’s Twitter account. Trees sustained much of the damage. Some were snapped in half, some uprooted. Some remained intact. Some of the steel roofing was taken from the barn, empty grain bins were blown away, while full ones were moved from their bases. Windows were broken in the house, and other structural damage to buildings.

“They (National Weather Service) rate a tornado by wind speed. They rate wind speed by the damage done. If they see certain things that have happened, if a tree snaps off halfway up, that’s stronger winds than if it tips the root ball and everything over.”

“They found trees that were  snapped off. The problem is, that wasn’t the core of the tornado. The core of the tornado was out in the field to the south of the buildings. In a corn field, there’s no way to rate wind speed. We may have had stronger wind speeds than that, but the only place we could measure was at the house and the farmstead.”

“It could have been higher, we just don’t know. The main core was just across the road from the buildings.”

“The field where it hit had been sprayed by Troy Kuxhaus that morning. He said the corn was ‘this tall,’ (indicating about eight inches.) It’s a bare field now. That’s actually where it hit.”

The actual tornado took a very small path, and stayed in one small area for approximately 40 minutes.

Pointing to a plat map on his wall, Jeff showed me the road that he and Shelly first drove down. “We started up this road right here, Shelly and I, and were driven back by quarter size hail. We turned around and came back, and then when it quit, Doug O’Bryan and I went back, and were driven back by half-dollar size hail.”

“We wanted to know exactly where it was at. It wasn’t doing much, it wasn’t traveling on the ground, it was staying stationary. I called the weather service and asked if it was moving. They confirmed that it was very stationary.”

“It was such a clear day, you could see it for miles. Everybody thought it was just over the hill from their house, but that wasn’t the case. It was visible for such a distance that it really got people’s attention.”

“There was no rain. A lot of time there’s rain, and this storm eventually rain wrapped.”

Let’s back up a little

“This was just a little separate storm cell that popped up. Judd Schomp called me and said, ‘There’s rotation in that storm.’ I drove down to the highway from my house and pulled off on a driveway to watch.”

“He called me back and said the rotation wasn’t what he thought. I was watching for rotation and the funnel popped down. I was wondering if it really was a funnel.”

“Then it got lower. I called the weather service and told them we had a funnel. They were watching the storm. They had a tornado warning ready, but hadn’t put it out yet.”

“Their system showed rotation, but the rest of the storm wasn’t conducive to building. It wasn’t a superstorm. It was more like a landspout that is short-lived and does little damage.”

“While visiting with the National Weather Service forecasters who came to rate the storm on Sunday, one of them said his opinion was that this popped up as a landspout. But while this landspout was evolving in existence, that storm formed into a supercell.”

Jeff explained the rotation characteristics of a superstorm, which is what this storm became.

“When I called the weather service back and told them it was on the ground, they immediately hit the “send” button to give the warning.”

“We didn’t have advanced notice because there was rotation in the storm, but the rest of the storm wasn’t conducive into forming into a tornado. They were on the edge of whether it was even going to be anything.”

“Of course, as soon as they got my report, their phones blew up. Everybody calls the weather service!”

“Once we knew we had it on the ground, I was trying to see what it was doing. Trying to see if it was hitting anything, and where it was going. Shelly noticed the dust from the road behind our vehicle was being sucked into the vortex of the storm.” 

“When I noticed the tornado warning had been issued for the city of Martin, I called Chris O’Bryan, and he told me they had already opened the shelter and sounded the sirens. I heard they had around 150 people.”

“At this same time, some of the firemen were already called out to fight a small grass fire at another location caused by lightning.”

“We chased the storm until it started to dissipate. There were a couple other small funnels that started to lower. The clouds that were hanging down were rotating slowly. We were watching that, but then they joined together, stopped rotating, and went back up into the clouds.”

“Bottom line, nobody got hurt. There was damage, and I do regret the damage at Bob Nash’s place, but it could have been a whole lot worse. If it had been moving on the ground at 30 miles per hour, it could have been a whole lot worse.”

Joining together to keep the public safe and informed was the Bennett County Sheriff’s Office, Martin Volunteer Fire Department, Martin City Police, and Oglala Sioux Tribe Public Safety personnel.

“Again, bottom line, nobody got hurt. It was a good day for chasing storms. To have a storm to have that much contact with, and with little damage, it was an awesome event from an emergency manager’s viewpoint. We are thankful nobody got hurt.”

502 Second Avenue, Martin, SD 57551 • 605-685-6866 • booster@gwtc.net