Tornado causes extreme damage throughout Harding County, S.D., Carter County, Mont. | TSLN.com

Tornado causes extreme damage throughout Harding County, S.D., Carter County, Mont.

Nancy Johnson

Nerves were on edge in the late evening hours of Thursday in Harding County as dark ominous clouds began moving through the area. By 7:00 pm that evening, everyone was on high alert watching the sky for damaging winds and hail, but no one expected to see what would move through the area in the next couple hours.

It began when a small tornado that developed in southeastern Montana started moving northeastward just southwest of Captiol, MT. The tornado moved along the banks of the Little Missouri causing considerable damage to many ranches located along the route.

Representatives from the National Weather Service out of Billings, MT and also Rapid City were monitoring the storm waiting to see what would build and when to warn people of imminent danger.

The ranch owned by Doug and Julia Davis, who live south of Camp Crook on the Norwegian Cutoff took the brunt of the storm and the most severe damage.

Prior to hitting the Davis Ranch, the twister moved through Wacey and Heather Kornemann's destroying trees, windbreaks and causing severe damage to their corrals and barn. Several horses that were in the corral at the time of the touchdown were uninjured, but a little spooked by all of the chaos. Due to fallen trees and debris lying on the roadway into the ranch, they were unable to get out of the ranch and had to commence moving said debris before doing so.

The tornado also hit the ranch of Bruce and Lynn Gustafson taking out an airplane hangar and destroying trees as well as fenceline.

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As the storm moved up the river, it went through the ranch of Ivan and Mary Teigen and nearly missed the home of Jane Teigen. It did take a grain bin while on the way through and caused considerable damage to trees, grass and anything its' way. As all of them were at a funeral that day in North Dakota, they were not home to witness or view the destruction until the next day when they could see it in the daylight hours. Numerous dead deer were found up and down the river after the tornado went through.

The tornado was reported to have been heading straight for the Junior and Shirley Melum home, as they watched it destroy the trees, grass and fences in its' path, Ernie Melum moved the family into the basement to wait out the inevitable, but it suddenly turned northeast and headed across the river. They lost several yards of fenceline that was either completely gone or mangled to the point it is almost unfixable. Debris was strewn everywhere and will take weeks to cleanup.

Both Ty Moncur and Alex Moncur were on the lookout for the storm and spotted the tornado as it moved across and up the riverbank headed toward the Davis Ranch. Ty Moncur videoed the tornado as it made its swipe through the area and tore out the newly built fence that was located down by the river. He figured the tornado stayed on the ground an approximate 45 minutes as it went through their place demolishing the beautiful alfalfa field close to the river.

The tornado struck the Davis Ranch at approximately 8:30 p.m. Julia said she received several text messages from the National Weather Service warning of the incoming tornado, but the last one sent chills through her when it was in bold capital letters stating to take cover immediately and that a tornado was upon them.

Doug and Julia had been watching from the west side of their house and could see the twister coming their way. Doug called down to Dick and Erma Alberts' and told them to get in the basement immediately and stay there. He and Julia were already in the basement of their house and took several pictures from the small window as the tornado passed within feet of the house. They watched as it completely destroyed the newly built shop that housed their street bike, Julia's mustang, a hydraulic engine lift that was embedded in the cement floor, tools and the old camper that was parked beside the shop. The camper itself was split into pieces and the largest part of it came to rest on a trencher that sat just a few feet away. Their new camper was a resting point for the east wall of the shop. The doors of the old shop that held a fire truck and several other vehicles and pieces of equipment were pulled off the tracks and wrapped around the front end of the fire truck, sparing much more damage to other vehicles. The storm then moved north going through the corral and completely demolishing a shed on the west side of the corrals. Doug had a few bulls that were in the corral and one of them had a large gash in his side likely due to a piece of steel that had been hurled at him from the winds. The bull was stitched up the next day and will be doctored until healed. They also lost a ewe that was in the tornadoes path and had a lamb injured. A number of ewe and lamb pairs were in the tree patch just a few feet from the demolished shed and they were untouched. As the tornado went down over the bank, it destroyed everything in its' path, including the house that was built in 1930 by Doug's grandpa Bud Davis, where Dick and Erma Alberts resided. Dick and Erma had taken cover in the basement of the house and were safe from the destruction, but were definitely shaken up after was all said and done. Erma couldn't get her little dog to go down in the basement with them, but was later found alright sitting in the bathtub waiting for rescue. Dick was able to push their way out of the basement, but had to have help from Doug and Alex Moncur to get completely out of the house as there was too much debris to climb thrown. Thankfully, neither one of them was injured, just extremely shaken up.

The next day upon further inspection of the area, they discovered that all three of their vehicles received catastrophic damage as well as everything they owned. Dick's boat was gone and his topper was nowhere to be found. Erma's car had been tipped on its' side and pushed up against the front door of the house. Doug had been using a 10,000 lb tractor in a field a ways away from the house that they were unable to find for quite some time. Jake, Doug and Julia's son, who had came to the ranch from Spearfish right away after the tornado, went looking for it on his motorcycle the next day and found it in several pieces strewn across the pastures. It had been picked up and moved several hundred feet and dropped leaving an oil trail as it was picked up and thrown again. One of the rims of the tractor was found more than two miles away lodged in a quonset that held George Olson's tractor, rake, boat and a camper. Several electric poles were snapped and others were leaned over from the extreme winds. Southeast electric out of Ekalaka was on site by midnight, and cut live lines that had prevented Doug from hooking up the generator. After lines were disconnected, the generator was hooked up and they continued making repairs so the rest of the community could regain electricity. The repairs continued throughout the next couple days.

Two miles away, across the Norwegian Cutoff, George Olson had a 28 ft camper sucked out of a 40×60 quonset that was bolted to a 3'x2' cement foundation with rebar. The cement was ripped out of the ground, twisted and mangled and then sent flying 20 to 30 feet away from its' location. The north wall of the building was bent over to the ground pulling up the foundation. The boat was resting upon the side of the rake, but there was minor damage to the tractor and rake itself. The camper however, was completely demolished with nothing left but the floor and axles as it had been thrown several hundred feet away from the building in a cutout in the bank.

The tornado then headed northeast over the end of the Short Pine Hills and toward the ranch owned by Gary and Dana Licking. As the destruction continued, it sawed off trees, tore up fences and spread debris everywhere. Pieces of buildings, wood and such from Davis', Olson's and other places were found miles and miles away.

At the Licking Ranch west of Buffalo approximately 10 miles, the tornado moved through a tree patch, destroyed an outbuilding and caused extreme damage to corrals, a shed and several vehicles that were parked nearby. Trees littered the yard around the house and some had fallen on the roof of the house, but the house itself was left intact. There was damage from thrown debris, but no one was inured. A young colt had been staked in front of the shed that was destroyed, but Dana had decided to put him in the horse trailer that sat near the house, hoping her would remain calm and safe. Her decision to move the colt saved its' life as the tornado went directly through where he had been staked and surely would have killed the young colt. Other yearling horses were grazing in the tree patch just past the corrals and the barn that had been severely damaged, but they too were uninjured. Hundreds of feet of fenceline were also destroyed and in debris was everywhere.

Travis Smith didn't think much had happened at their place, but after further investigation Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, he reported that several hundred feet of fenceline had been ripped out of the ground, trees had the bark ripped off and they found at least one cow with a broken back and were in the process of looking for other injuries. Cows were roaming as fences were down throughout the place.

The Otis Hewson Ranch also sustained some damage as grass and crops were flattened by the winds and hay bales were moved around the field. No word on any other damage as of yet.

The National Weather Service out of Rapid City declared that winds up to 140 mph went through the area calculating an EF-3 tornado, but off the record one representative stated that he believes there were winds in excess up to 160 mph that would have made the tornado an EF-4. Power was out through the area for several hours and Grand Electric crews were called in from Bison to assist the Buffalo crew with finding downed poles and repairing and restoring electricity.

Ranchers throughout the area that weren't directly hit by the tornado still lost several thousands of dollars worth of hay and other crops not to mention fenceline. Hail damage from the storms over the past several days have been extreme in some areas. Northeast of Ludlow was hit hard with several ranchers experiencing total loss to some crops and damage to houses and vehicles. The Scranton and Reeder, North Dakota areas were hit hard as well as the Newell and Orman Dam area. Millions of dollars in damages came from the storms and people will be cleaning up from the chaos for weeks to come. Neighbors helping neighbors is the mode people are in as they go from day to day figuring out what to do with livestock and plans to repair or rebuild structures that were destroyed. Harding County Emergency Management Director, Kathy Glines and Carter County Emergency Management Director Georgia Bruski report that people are in the assessment stage and dealing with insurance agencies trying to figure out the correct agencies and information to report.

Numerous people captured video or pictures of the tornado as it made its way across Harding County. This is not a common sight for this area, so it had some people a little rattled wondering where it was going to hit next. All in all, the storms and tornadoes caused an extreme amount of damage, but in the end, no lives were lost and nobody was injured.

–Reprinted with permission from the Nation Center News