MOUNT VERNON — Crash. Bang. Boom.
That’s how Bill Nicolaisen described a powerful spring storm that ripped through central South Dakota Monday overnight into Tuesday morning.
Just prior to 6 a.m., Nicolaisen heard a rumbling and he was stunned at what he saw afterward.
The 64-year-old emerged from the basement of his rural Mount Vernon home, only to find the remainder of his home and detached garage in a field a half-mile away, along with pieces in his neighbor’s yard. He said the upstairs flooring of his home remained intact as his house blew away, keeping shelter over Nicolaisen’s head and him safe during the storm.
When asked to describe the carnage, Nicolaisen said, “Well, there goes everything. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s done and gone. … I’m fine, it just scared the crap out of me.”
The loss of Nicolaisen’s home was among the many stories of damage as Mother Nature flexed with hail, flooding, wind and rain.
The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls said Mitchell received about 3 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. Farmer Chet Edinger said on social media that the Davis Weather Station on his Mount Vernon farm recorded wind gusts up to 94 mph.
Davison County Emergency Manager Jeff Bathke observed structural damage to several outbuildings, power lines down and grain bins that are destroyed. After discussions with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, Bathke believes the damage was all due to straight line winds and heavy rains, and not a result of a tornado.
“There was just massive amounts of water that had nowhere to go, but it’s nothing they can’t recover from,” he said late Tuesday morning.
Mount Vernon Mayor Weston Frank said the howling of the wind gusts were like nothing he’s ever heard before. The series of thunderstorms that ripped through the Mount Vernon community inflicted serious damage to many of the residents' homes and farms.
“We have a few houses that had trees go through the entire roof,” Frank said, noting roughly at least four Mount Vernon homes experienced trees ripping through their roofs. “I have seen strong winds while living in Mount Vernon over the years, but that was the strongest I’ve ever experienced. I knew it was going to be really bad.”
The community that sits 15 miles west of Mitchell saw a damage trail left behind paralleled to the aftermath of a tornado.
“When I went to look outside my window, it looked like a gray, dense fog and you couldn’t even see more than a few inches outside of the window at any point,” Frank said. “Last report I had from the emergency management, they said the National Weather Service of Sioux Falls had winds on record of about 50 to 60 mph, but they did confirm there could have been isolated pockets that were more severe.”
Regionally, the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls said there was a confirmed tornado on the ground 8 miles east of Carthage in Miner County, according to a trained spotter. Miner County Sheriff’s Office said no damage had been reported early Tuesday morning.
Hail was reported all over the region, with sizes varying up to 2.5 inches 3 miles southwest of Ethan and Wagner had 2-inch hail.
‘Raining so hard, you couldn’t see’
Stickney Fire Chief Jeff Sauvage said there’s some bad damage southeast of town.
“Bins are gone, buildings collapsed and telephone poles got snapped off like twigs,” he said, noting about 4 inches of rain poured down.
At about 5:30 Tuesday morning, Carla and Corey Plamp were watching as a storm was passing through the area.
"It was raining so hard, you couldn't see the shed,” Corey said, “And what is that, 100 yards away?”
As the winds got stronger and the rain started blowing horizontally he knew to seek cover.
Corey and Carla went to their basement, where their two boys Bryce, 20, and Hayden, 17, were sleeping. While they could hear the wind causing a ruckus outside, it lasted about 5 minutes, according to Corey.
"The house is fine, but everything else was hit," Corey said while noting he had two broken windows on the west side of the house.
Three of the six grain bins were completely blown off their concrete foundation, one of which was partially flattened against the barn a couple hundred feet away. The family's two-car garage was blown away. Debris left holes inside the pole-barn that housed most of the tractors, but all of the tractor equipment was stored inside and avoided damage.
Power to the house went out for a brief period, as Central Electric Cooperative was able to restore power quickly, according to Plamp.
Carla Plamp, who works with Dakotaland Insurance, was busy all morning with people who suffered damage as a result of the storm calling and emailing.
A farm just down the road had a numerous number of calf houses scattered across fields with people cleaning up the damage and debris.
Corey said they saw about 4 inches of rain from Monday night through the morning.
Damage was spotty across the region, but wind and rain were the common denominators. The National Weather Service said Plankinton saw a 59 mph wind gust; Canova had 56 mph winds and winds topped at 55 mph 3 miles south of Mitchell.
The city of Mitchell had water pooling in the streets with street crews out working early Tuesday morning and multiple areas of town were without power. Officials said the city of Mitchell Landfill will be taking tree branches knocked down from city residents free of charge. The landfill is located southeast of town on 257th Avenue. The compost drop-off site will also accept branches at 1400 W. Eighth Ave. Branches on the boulevards will not be collected at this point.
With the heavy amounts of rain overnight, the James River water levels in Mitchell increased quickly again. NWS recorded the James River at 18.56 feet on Tuesday, nearly a foot higher than the 17.76 reported on Monday afternoon.
Clean-up kits for flooded basements and groceries are available at the Salvation Army on Monday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. Clean-up kits consist of a mop, bleach, a mask and gloves. Bill Middendorp, Salvation Army auxiliary captain, says there are about 100 in stock and supply shortages are not expected yet.
Some areas dodged the blast.
After radar reports from the NWS issued an urgent warning for residents in Tripp and Parkston to take shelter, Hutchinson County reported no serious damage and no reports of a tornado touching down, according to emergency manager Dave Hoffman.
“It never came,” Hoffman said. “I made all the calls -- no damage. No hail damage. Basically no damage in Hutchinson County.”