There were several close calls in Plentywood when an EF1 tornado touched down Monday night, but, miraculously, no fatalities were reported. In fact, there weren’t even any injuries to report.
That’s particularly fortunate considering that power had been knocked out to the community’s hospital, leaving it to run on an emergency generator.
While there were no reported injuries, there were multiple reports of property damage across Plentywood, including three downed power lines that put out the lights for about 22 hours for many, according to Sheridan County Sheriff Heidi Williamson.
Some were still without power Wednesday, but the lights have been turned back on for the west side of town, which is where the hospital is located.
“That was a long test on their generators, but they held out,” Williamson said.
There were multiple reports of close calls. There was a man, for example, standing right next to the Blue Moon Casino when the tornado came by to give it a little kiss. That knocked the poor casino to its knees, bursting out the glass breezeway, and lifting the roof off the kitchen area. A sea of broken glass and wood bits were left behind forlorn, but the man and an ATM inside the casino were still standing, largely unscathed.
An occupied house was also hit. It lost half its roof, but the woman inside escaped and was not injured, Williams said.
At the airport, straight-line winds reached speeds of up to 118 mph. These are called “macrobursts” in weatherman lingo.
These macrobursts are just as dangerous, if not more so, as a tornado. They blew whole hangars off their concrete foundations, so quickly in some cases that the airplane that had been sitting inside was left behind, exactly where it had been parked, with little damage.
Others weren’t so lucky, however. They were picked up and carried a distance away, before being dropped unceremoniously on their heads, left behind with broken and bent wings that will never see the sky again. At least 10 airplanes had substantial damage — a devastating blow to the livelihoods of some.
On the east side of town, wind gusts reached up to 127 mph and did a lot of damage to shops and businesses there.
The tornado’s maximum wind speed was 110 mph, according to National Weather Service Glasgow, which sent a team to the area to survey damage.
The storm is the same one that later touched down in Watford City as an EF2 tornado. It injured dozens of people in an RV park in Watford City, and killed a 6-day-old baby.
An EF1 storm can still cause devastating damage, and the potential for fatalities is still very high. The storm disintegrated a vacant trailer house in Plentywood, Williams said. She also saw two-by-fours that had impaled cars and buildings alike.
“Somehow, with all this devastation, there were no injuries reported,” she said. “We were extremely fortunate with the weather that we had that no one got hurt.”
The community opened its civic center to serve as an emergency shelter, so that people could have access to some power, hot running water, and a cooling center.
Volunteers from Scobey brought generators and gas to the civic center for people to borrow as well, according to Facebook posts.
“We also had volunteers there cooking food so people could get a brat or a hamburger or slushburgers,” Williams said. “There were side dishes, too, and, I think, some ice cream.”
Nemont Telephone brought a barbecue grill and hamburgers down from Scobey, to cook for the community. Hundreds of free hot dogs, hamburgers and even drinks were given out.
“Now it’s all just cleanup efforts,” Williams said.
The airport runway has been cleared so that medical flights can get in and out. It will be some time, however, before lights and power can be restored in that area.
The sound of chainsaws could be heard all over Plentywood Wednesday, Williams said, as a steady stream of tree branches and brush were cut and hauled to the dump.
“It’s so cool to see everyone helping everyone clean up their yards and try to get things back in order,” she said.