The tornado season picked up over the weekend when a pair of storms caused minor damage near the South Dakota communities of Allen and Lucas.
A tornado struck near the Bennett County town of Allen, or approximately 17 miles northwest of Martin on Saturday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service in Rapid City.
The tornado measured at a strength of EF-1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which measures tornado intensity. Winds reached speeds of 104 miles per hour, said T.J. Gunkel, an intern at the NWS in Rapid City.
Gunkel said reports indicated that the storm struck mainly over farmland and caused minimal damage to buildings or other property. It lasted from approximately 2:33 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. Mountain Time, Gunkel said.
“Damage was very minimal,” Gunkel said. “One house was damaged and some grain bins, but from what we saw it was nothing crazy.”
The tornado was unusual in the fact that it only moved 2.3 miles on the ground, but was active for around 40 minutes.
Roberta Ward, a bookkeeper at the Pride Grain elevator in Martin, said she watched the tornado from her backyard on the west side of Martin.
“I walked into the backyard and didn’t see anything, and as I walked toward the door, the tornado siren goes off,” Ward said.
Ward said she heard reports of minor damage throughout the area, but that structures escaped unharmed for the most part.
“There wasn’t really any debris in the tornado, but I heard there was a house that was vacant that had some damage and maybe some dead deer,” Ward said.
Ward said it was a surreal experience watching a funnel cloud from her backyard while the weather near her remained relatively calm. She said if the tornado had continued on its path, it could have been much worse for her.
“There was just a couple of drops of rain and no hail, nothing like that. There was no wind when I was watching this thing,” Ward said. “I just kept standing there saying please go away. If it came on the path it was going on, I was in that path, and there goes my house and whatever else.”
Jeff Siscoe, emergency manager for Bennett County, said damage was limited primarily to unoccupied buildings, farm structures and five power poles.
“Hail damage, broken windows, that sort of thing,” Siscoe said.
About 150 people took shelter at the local at the local storm shelter when the siren sounded, Siscoe said, but no injuries were reported.
Farther east, a second tornado touched down Sunday afternoon near the Gregory County village of Lucas, which is located between Platte and Burke. Like the tornado near Allen the day before, the storm was relatively weak and caused minimal damage, according to the NWS office in Sioux Falls.
“From what we can gather, it didn’t affect any structures, maybe a few trees, so we’re not planning on doing a storm survey on it,” said Jen Hacker, a meteorologist with the NWS in Sioux Falls. “As for how long it lasted, from the reports it was on the ground for 10 to 12 minutes.”
Hacker said the storm would likely be classified as an EF-0.
Hacker said the prime tornado season in South Dakota usually runs from June to July, and that the cool spring probably delayed the usual onset of storms this year. South Dakota sees an average of about 36 tornadoes per year with 13 occurring in 2018, low for a season.
It’s been a slow start for 2019 as well, Hacker said.
“For this year, we’re probably a bit below average, just because of the cool, wet spring,” Hacker said.
Hacker said the general forecast for southeast South Dakota for the holiday week of July 4 called for the possibility of thunderstorms throughout.
“There is the possibility of thunderstorms, but it will be a little cooler than last week,” she said. “It’s nothing we can pinpoint three or four days out, but people should just be aware through the holiday week that there will be a chance of isolated thunderstorms, and severe thunderstorms are not out of the question.”
Hacker recommended those planning to be outside during the week, especially at Fourth of July celebrations, to be on alert for adverse weather by monitoring forecasts and social media reports.
“If you are outdoors make sure you have a way to receive alerts, as even general thunderstorms can be dangerous,” Hacker said.