Much of Sioux Falls' most densely populated area sustained heavy damage Tuesday night as a tornado and strong winds tore through the city, causing structural damage and leaving thousands without power.

Sioux Falls is now the fourth community in South Dakota to have been heavily impacted by a tornado in the past decade, and is the second city to have been hit in just over a month. Tuesday's three-tornado event was the first tornado to hit Sioux Falls since June 12, 2001 when an EF-0 tornado hit.

According to data from the National Weather Service, Tuesday also marked the first time a South Dakota tornado has touched down in September in at least the past 20 years. In that time frame, six weather incidents in which at least one tornado touched down in South Dakota have occurred in June, while four each have taken place in May and August and three were recorded in July.

With the exception of an EF-1 tornado that hit Jefferson on Oct. 4, 2013, no other South Dakota tornado reported by NWS has taken place later in a calendar year than Tuesday's. An EF-1 tornado falls near the low end of the Enhanced Fujita scale, which categorizes tornadoes from EF-0 to EF-5 depending on their wind speeds.

Summer tornadoes are not new to South Dakota and have occurred sporadically over the past 20 years. In eight hours on June 24, 2003, 67 tornadoes touched down in the eastern half of the state, earning the day the nickname "Tornado Tuesday," most notably destroying Manchester with EF-4. On May 5, 2007, 25 tornadoes were recorded in southeast South Dakota, with one near Plankinton recorded as an EF-3. And 2006, 2008 and 2009 each saw a storm during which multiple tornadoes were observed but quickly dissipated or lifted.

Not all the tornadoes South Dakota's seen in the past decade have caused extensive damage to communities. Since 2015, six tornadoes have touched down briefly and primarily in rural areas, damaging trees and fields and rolling a few hay bales in addition to causing some structural damage, and were classified as EF-0 tornadoes.

About half of South Dakota's tornadoes in recent years have been in sparsely populated areas, generally affecting, at most, a handful of farms. But like Sioux Falls experienced this week, three other eastern South Dakota cities have experienced tornado destruction in June 2014, May 2015 and August of this year.

Wessington Springs

It's been just over five years since Jerauld County was hit by three tornadoes in the same day, one of which touched down within the city limits of Wessington Springs.

There, 77 people were displaced, 15 homes were completely destroyed and another 44 were significantly damaged, though there were no fatalities or serious injuries. NWS reported that debris fell on one family taking shelter on its farm near Alpena, leaving a family pet dead and leaving one person with minor injuries.

In addition to the tornado that tore through Wessington Springs on the evening of June 18, 2014, two others were recorded to the northeast.

The Wessington Springs tornado, which was classified as an EF-2 with wind speeds peaking at 135 mph, was said to have directly affected about a third of Wessington Springs' population.


Eleven months after and 60 miles south of the tornado that hit Wessington Springs, another EF-2 tornado tore through Delmont, destroying 44 buildings and injuring nine of the town's approximately 235 residents on Mother's Day in 2015.

In addition to homes, among the buildings damaged in Delmont were the Zion Lutheran Church, the historic Onion House and the fire station, which had been recently built when the tornado came through. The community has since worked to rebuild all three.

The town has also taken precautions to keep its residents safe if it were ever to see a repeat of May 10, 2015. As of last fall, Delmont has two storm shelters, which were built with $5,500 taken from a fund collected in 2015. The shelters are designed to meet FEMA guidelines and can withstand wind speeds of up to 200 mph.

As a symbol of hope for Delmont's recovery from the tornado, Tripp-Delmont students have made wooden cardinals in shop classes and placed them around the town.


Last month, an EF-1 tornado touched down near the center of Burke and lifted south of the city after traveling 3.8 miles.

In that tornado, two people were injured when a roof collapsed on them as they pulled into a garage. Thousands of trees were knocked down, and structural damage occurred across the city.

While wind speeds of that Aug. 6 tornado were lower than of those that hit Wessington Springs and Delmont, the amount of damage that resulted was compounded by other elements in the storm. Much of the damage to the city was done by straight-line winds of between 80 and 100 mph, and hail as big as three inches in diameter fell at the same time.

Structurally, the tornado's targets included houses, the Burke Building Center, the Burke Civic Center and the Burke School District's building. The school district pushed its start of the school year back about two weeks, to Sept. 4, to get the school ready for students again.