By Jonni Joyce
It was early afternoon on Thursday, July 13 when the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm watch active until 9:00 p.m. for Fall River, Oglala Lakota and Bennett Counties, along with Western Nebraska, eastern Wyoming, and northeast Colorado. Large hail and damaging winds were the primary threats.
A little before 5 p.m., the lights began to flicker at the Booster’s office on 2nd Ave. in Martin. To the west were dark clouds and lightening. A review of doppler radar showed a significant thunderstorm had popped up west of Gordon Junction traveling south east. The wind was out of the north in South Dakota and out of the south in Nebraska. As the two directions met, it held the storm front on a south easterly pattern. Gordon Junction was directly in its path.
“I saw it coming,” said Pastor Ken Trivette of the Pine Ridge Baptist Church. “It was a wall of dirt.”
Trivette is standing in the sanctuary describing his first hand account of the storm.
“I’ve never heard that sound before,” Trivette said. “It had a low rumble.”
Trivette then gesticulates upward and describes the low rumble as being high rather than near the ground. Trivette watched as the storm approached. First was the rain, a wall of water, followed by the hail.
“It was a white out,” said Trivette. “You couldn’t see anything.”
A window breaks in his house from the hail.
“It lasted ten to fifteen minutes,” said Trivette.
Trivette adds that normally these thunderstorms roll over pretty quickly. Not this one. This one lasted. Once the storm passed Trivette headed to check on the church. He waded through knee deep water to get there. He arrived to two feet of pea to marble sized hail at the door. He had to shovel it to get in. Once inside, the Pastor began to take measure of the damage. Water had come in both the front and back doors, flooding the entrance way and back kitchen area. The wooden walkway to the back door was described as floating like a dock in all of the flood water.
The drop ceiling in the sanctuary had been damaged when the building, made to endure hurricane force winds, oscillated in the 87 mile per hour winds. The metal cables holding the ceiling snapped damaging a small number of the tile frames. Water had dripped from the ceiling onto the sanctuary floor.
The hail had broken a north facing window on the dorm building causing glass and water to blow in and destroy a room meant to house guests. A ceiling tile was down exposing the roof and a picture hung cockeyed on the wall. Glass covered the floor and furniture.
The winds had ripped an air conditioning unit off of the dorm building exterior wall. Those same winds rearranged outdoor cast iron furniture and toppled a basketball goal. Mounds of hail still surrounded the air conditioning unit the next day.
“I’ve never seen one this bad,” said Trivette.
The South Dakota Department of Transportation weather station at Gordon Junction recorded a wind speed of 87 miles per hour according to Susan Saunders, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service out of Rapid City. A member of the public had reported 70 mile per hour winds at Wounded Knee.
“The damage indicates a wide swath of wind,” said Saunders.
Along Highway 18 for several miles east of Gordon Junction there were downed power poles and damaged crops visible.
Mike Pisha, Operations Manager for Lacreek Electric reported that approximately 2000 people experienced electrical outages.
“We had ten to twelve lineman and eight vehicles respond,” said Pisha.
Electricity had been restored to all but about fifty by 3 a.m. However, poles and lines are still down in the area.
“We lost 24 sub transmission lines and an unknown amount of distribution lines,” said Pisha when contacted early Friday a.m.
The area of Wakpamni still had some outages. Downed poles and wires could remain for the next week as crews assess the damage and complete repair work.
“Some materials might have to be shipped in,” said Pisha.
There’s also a possibility that a heavy equipment contractor could be called in to assist to replace the larger poles.
Fields of corn were destroyed with stalks snapped six inches from the ground by the force of the winds and hail. Other crops were beat into the ground. The storm moved in a southeasterly direction from South Dakota and into Nebraska at thirty five miles per hour according to weather reports.
“We are so lucky,” said Sherry Trivette. “It could have been so much worse.”
Members of the congregation spent the morning after the storm drying out carpets and cleaning the church in preparation for Sunday services. Line crews in utility vehicles worked to prepare the downed line and poles for repair.
Lacreek Electric reminds everyone to stay clear of downed power lines as they effect repair work. They can be contacted at 605-685-6581.