An early-morning storm Wednesday dumped rain, uprooted trees and knocked out power throughout Hutchinson County and other locations in southeast South Dakota.
The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls said the storm began along the Missouri River near Platte and moved east at about 30 to 40 miles per hour. Todd Heitkamp, meteorologist for the Sioux Falls NWS office, said the storm packed winds from 80 to 100 miles per hour and dumped between an inch and 3.5 inches of rain, depending on location.
While tornado warnings were issued for the storm, Heitkamp said, it is unclear if the damage through the area was actually caused by a twister. He also said that because of the conditions of the storm, it was not possible to definitively say there wasn’t a tornado, either.
“Though we issued tornado warnings with the storm, there is no confirmation from the damage that we’ve seen that a tornado occurred,” Heitkamp said. “Because the heavy rain washed out a lot of the signatures.”
The bottom line, he said, is that the winds were extremely strong.
“At this point it really doesn’t matter; wind is wind. It’s difficult to get confirmation at that time of night. You can’t see and we don’t want people running to their windows to look,” Heitkamp said.
The National Weather Service indicated damage had also been reported in the Tyndall, Pickstown, Armour and Menno areas.
Dave Hoffman, the mayor of Parkston and emergency manager for Hutchinson County, said there were no injuries directly related to the storm reported, but tree and structure damage and flooding were extensive throughout the county.
“We’re flooded again. We have roads we fixed up that we don’t have anymore. The town of Dimock has tree damage, and Parkston has fairly significant tree damage. And the bigger the tree, the bigger the damage. Some of the old trees just busted off,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said several other communities suffered tree damage during the storm, and power outages occurred when either poles were blown over or tree branches fell on lines. He also said in a case of bad timing, a router with the county 911 service went out Tuesday and wasn’t repaired until about 11 a.m. Wednesday morning, forcing responders to use old-fashioned methods of communication to relay information on the storm.
“Our 911 service was down (in Hutchinson County) this morning. We didn’t have any communications other than the police departments, who have their own communication. Technology is great, but you used to have a hard line,” Hoffman said. “It really straps you. Then you start doing it the old way.”
The outage was unrelated to the storm, he said.
Other damage in the county included silos that were damaged southwest of Parkston, a house roof that was blown off in an Amish community near Tripp and tree damage in Olivet, Hoffman said. He said emergency sirens sounded in the communities of Dimock, Parkston, Tripp and Kaylor ahead of the storm and that there had been reports of a possible tornado, but it was too dark to confirm.
The Hutchinson County Courthouse in Olivet was closed Wednesday morning due to a power outage and a reported gas leak in the community. The courthouse was operating under generator power early Wednesday afternoon, and employees were helping customers conduct business.
Diane Murtha, auditor for Hutchinson County, said the decision was made to delay opening the courthouse until the safety of employees and people coming to the courthouse could be assured and tree branches could be cleared off the streets.
“It was a mess,” she said. “I got here at about 7:30 a.m. and they were working on it. I called the employees and told them to stay away until I tell them,” Murtha said.
Murtha also said that there was no apparent damage to the new courthouse building under construction on the west side of town. County staff expect to begin moving into the new building in October. After talking to the construction foreman, she said it appeared the new structure was undamaged, although construction work was on hold due to the power outage.
“It’s all good,” Murtha said. “I had to hurry and get here to see if it was OK, and everything is OK.”
In Parkston, trees and branches could be seen on the ground throughout the community Wednesday afternoon.
Jason Von Eschen, owner of Von Eschen Lawn and Landscape in Wagner, was in town with a crew cleaning up tree debris along with several other tree services. Coincidentally, he had already been scheduled to be in Parkston to do some work, but his client called him early Wednesday morning after the storm.
“We came straight here and then gained another job on the south side of town,” Von Eschen said. He said Wagner had received some damage from the storm, but it didn’t appear as serious as what he had seen in Parkston.
Part of a tree had fallen onto the south side of the Werning Chiropractic Clinic in Parkston, causing damage to the structure. Kathy Werning, whose husband Mark is the doctor at the clinic, said they were waiting for insurance adjusters to arrive, but didn’t expect the incident to interfere with the clinic tending to patients.
“It didn’t come all the way through,” Werning said. “We’re lucky, it could have been much worse.”
NorthWestern Energy reported it had about 1,100 customers without power beginning at about 5 a.m. and had restored most customers by early Wednesday afternoon, though some work remained to be done, said Tom Glanzer, a spokesman for NorthWestern Energy.
“We lost Delmont, Olivet, Scotland and Kaylor totally, and part of Parkston was out,” Glanzer said. “Some of those were for a short time, but some were out for an extended amount of time.”
Dimock and Ethan also experienced outages due to the storm, he said.
Glanzer said the storm winds knocked lines from poles and, in some cases, knocked the poles themselves down. Crews from the northern division of the company, who had just finished repair work from a recent storm in their own territory, were helping local NorthWestern crews with recovery efforts, he said.
He said most customers had their service restored by noon Wednesday, and Olivet was expected to have power restored by midafternoon. Other small outages were expected to be resolved by the evening, he said.
“We’re hoping to have everything back together by sundown,” Glanzer said.
With storm season in full swing, Glanzer asked customers to remember to think safety when it comes to downed power lines.
“If the line’s down, treat it like it’s live. Don’t assume it’s dead,” Glanzer said. “And if you can’t remember our line, call 911 and they’ll help you get ahold of us.”
Heitkamp said there was nothing particularly unusual about the storms that struck Wednesday morning, but reminded people that summer weather can turn serious quickly and to always be alert for warnings.
“There is nothing that is causing these storms to be more severe, other than the fact that the way the heat is built in, that kind of minimizes storms forming during the day and makes it more favorable during the night hours,” he said. “The main thing is when people go to bed they should have some method to receive warnings in case they are issued and to stay up to date with weather information the entire time.”