Colome man survives storm inside iron box
COLOME -- As the winds toppled his semi and destroyed his barn, the only thing protecting Rick Petersek from flying debris was an iron box. "I tell you what ... that was the most horrifying thing I've ever experienced," Petersek said Tuesday. At ...
COLOME - As the winds toppled his semi and destroyed his barn, the only thing protecting Rick Petersek from flying debris was an iron box.
"I tell you what ... that was the most horrifying thing I've ever experienced," Petersek said Tuesday.
At about 7 p.m. Sunday, heavy winds and rains created severe conditions in Colome, Petersek said, so the 55-year-old rancher for Raven Angus moved his pickup into his barn about two miles southeast of Colome.
Shortly after, the walls and ground began to shake, and the lights flickered. Petersek looked outside and saw a funnel cloud southeast of his home quickly moving in his direction.
Instead of running to his trailer house, Petersek picked up Diamond, his black lab/rottweiler, and reached for an iron gun safe inside the barn.
"I grabbed that dog and lifted the lid, and everything hit. It was like an explosion," Petersek said.
The door of the box swung open and struck Petersek in the head, knocking him unconscious for up to a minute. The box fell on top of Petersek and Diamond, shielding them from the storm, but Petersek doesn't believe it was luck.
"It's God, man. I'll tell you what, I believe in God," he said.
In Winner, the closest National Weather Service observation station to Colome, about eight-tenths of an inch of rain fell in the storm that started Sunday night and continued early Monday morning. Wind speeds peaked at 44 mph.
Tornado or straight-line winds?
Susan Sanders, warning coordination meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Rapid City, traveled to Colome on Monday afternoon and determined the damage was not caused by a tornado, but was caused by strong winds, instead.
Sanders said the damage was likely caused by a microburst - a small downdraft from a thunderstorm that causes straight-line winds - as the debris appeared to fall in the same southwest direction. A microburst can look like a tornado, Sanders said, if a funnel cloud was formed.
"It was probably a microburst because the damage was localized," Sanders said. "The storm structure, the way it looked on the radar was typical of strong winds."
Meteorologist Katie Pojorlie said there were two tornadoes in the area on Sunday - one southwest of Winner and one near Littleburg on the South Dakota-Nebraska border in Todd County - but the storm near Colome has not been confirmed to have touched down.
"We have to see some dust circulation on the ground before we consider it a tornado," Pojorlie said. "Straight-line wind damage can fool people into thinking it's a tornado."
Petersek doesn't buy it.
"It was a tornado. The sound, what it did. It was a tornado," Petersek said. "When they say it's like a train, it is."
When Petersek recovered consciousness, he felt something tugging at his boot, which was still outside the box. At first, confused at the thought of someone standing outside among the debris, he realized it was the storm nearly yanking the boot from his foot.
Petersek and Diamond remained inside their small shelter until the wind died. He called the police and asked them to warn the town of Gregory that a tornado may be coming, but his own challenge was not over.
Petersek began crawling toward his 1944 pickup, which was undamaged, when his elbow dipped into a puddle and was shocked, likely caused by a downed power line, Petersek said.
"I thought, 'Oh great. The storms over, now we're going to get electrocuted,' " he said.
Petersek lifted Diamond under his arm and crawled over some nearby tires until he made it to the truck and was able to drive away from the scene. The only thought on his mind was the safety of his family members, who live nearby.
"I was worried about my dad. He was over at his house all by himself, and I thought, 'Oh my god, my dad's dead,' " Petersek said.
Petersek's father, Ray Petersek, was not injured, so Petersek went to visit his mom in the Winner Regional Nursing home.
He also went to Saint Isidore Catholic Church in Colome and sat in silence for an hour.
"I'm not a church-going person, but I always talked to God every day, and that was the first thought I had, was going to church," Petersek said. "I didn't hear anything, but I didn't care. It just felt so good."
No person or animal was injured on Petersek's property, including a horse named Blaze.
But his property wasn't so lucky. Petersek's home wasn't damaged, but his barn was completely destroyed, with pieces scattered across a nearby field. Petersek said most of his corrals were ripped out of the ground, and the panels were disconnected from the posts.
Additionally, a 1994 Peterbilt semi-truck and trailer was tipped onto its side. An insurance adjustor has yet to visit the site, Ray Petersek said, so the truck's condition and the total cost of repairs is unknown.
The truck was used to transport cattle for Raven Angus, a company started by Ray Petersek in 1955 and now run by his sons and grandsons. Petersek said the truck has been the best one they've had and is full of memories, but the family has been through bad times before and will continue doing business.
"We're not going to stop. I'm starting to think we're immortal," Petersek said.
No matter how much the repairs cost, Petersek said memories are what were truly lost.
"I keep thinking of memories of when my dad and my son and I built that (barn). It was fun," Petersek said. "We saved as much money as we could to do it ourselves, and it's gone."
Diamond is still acting strangely, Petersek said.
But because he, Diamond, Blaze and all his family members survived the storm, Petersek is sure he'll recover.
"God put me on this earth to take care of people. I'll be fine," Petersek said. "I just thank God we got in that barn."