Posted 6/14/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The large cylindrical cumulonimbus storm flashed lightning throughout its mass as it dropped torrential rains and, in some cases, hail, on the farms it passed over Thursday.
The storm mowed thousands of acres of crop land, leveled grain bins, tore off shingles -- and in one case, a whole garage roof -- damaged siding and downed utility poles.
Mike Smith, director of the county’s Emergency Management Department, was tracking the storm from his vehicle, careful to stay clear of its path.
The tension ratcheted up a notch, he said, when a sheriff’s deputy on Co. Road 11 spotted what looked like a funnel cloud. He relayed the report to Smith, by radio, who then contacted county dispatch services.
At the same time, the National Weather Service was putting out its own alerts, which many people received as text messages on their phones -- urging people to “take shelter immediately.”
At the same time, warning sirens blared in Tioga and Ray.
“The system worked,” Smith said, standing at Ray Fire Station after the storm passed.
Whether it was a tornado or just high winds, storm damage could be seen across Ray and Tioga on Friday.
Travis Lesmeister, who works for Schmidt Farms west of Tioga, said the impact on the Schmidt’s fields is extensive.
About 2,500 acres were lost to hail damage and winds.
“It’s total crop devastation out here,” he said.
The workshop at the Schmidt home is completely destroyed with debris spread out over the neighboring field.
“It’s going to be a lot of paperwork,” said Mark Schmidt.
Two-by-fours pierced one building and electrical poles were downed completely.
In Ray, Troy Kupper had three grain bins caved in by the wind, resulting in over $100,000 in damage.
Along ND 40, about two miles north of Tioga, the weather took down or snapped apart about a dozen utility poles, dropping electric lines in the ditches beside the highway and leaving the town without power for several hours.
Crews were out working to restore the poles the following morning.
Countless homes had shingles ripped off roofs and siding torn off the walls.
The roof over the garage of Ryan Eraas’s house was torn off and smashed into the deck of his neighbor, Dave Tengesdal.
Eraas said he and his family huddled in their basement and no one was hurt. And all the damage can be repaired.
“It’s just stuff,” Eraas said.
By late morning, neighbors had come to help clean up the massive chunk of roof and help cover the hole with a tarp.
Tengesdal said people were great.
“We got a good bunch of people in town here,” Tengesdal said of the way neighbors were helping each other out.
The Tioga Police Department and volunteers from area emergency responders were directing traffic around a flooded area that developed on Second Street.
Tornado or high winds?
It’s still not clear if there was a tornado or whether one touched the ground.
Smith took an assessment of the damage in Williams County, sending pictures and information to the National Weather Service, which will be able to officially confirm if the damage is the result of a twister or just high winds.
Smith notes much of the damage shows debris spread in one direction. Typically, but not certainly, a tornado will spread the debris over a path, which will also show certain patterns in the ground.
“A tornado will grind the ground,” Smith said.
Smith, who is from Oklahoma, has been a paramedic, firefighter and EMT. Prior to working in Williams County, he spent 15 years as an emergency manager in Oklahoma. He studied radar interpretation and storm dynamics at the University of Oklahoma.
“So I got this weather thing,” he said.
The county has been working on completing an outdoor warning system that will coordinate 40 sirens across the county.
The sirens can be activated all at once or independently, and they have battery backup to function when the power goes out.
Thursday night’s storm was one of the first regional events in Tioga and Ray in which the system got tested.
While the sirens alerted many people to the danger approaching -- and would do so in the case of a much more destructive event -- the sirens are designed to be an outdoor warning system.
Newer homes are much more soundproofed and often the sirens can’t be heard indoors, especially with televisions and other home activities drowning out the sirens.
Smith said the county is working on a mobile app they hope to have ready in the next month that will provide county residents with emergency information.
This will work in conjunction with the existing National Weather Service alerts.
“It’ll be a supplemental system,” Smith said.