Posted 6/28/16 (Tue)
By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer
After living in a tiny Texas town, Kristine Medeiros says knowing what to do is everything when facing a tornado like last Tuesday, June 21.
“I knew when to spring into action,” the Watford City native said, “but at the same time, we worked together. Everybody worked together to make sure everyone was safe.”
Upon rounding up her children, including two sons at a trailer park near Burgerrito’s, she headed to the Civic Center for shelter. A police officer and a couple other people helped her maneuver her wheelchair-bound son out of her car and down the stairs to the basement gym.
“Knowledge is power,” Medeiros said. “You need to know what to watch for.”
McKenzie County residents had plenty to be on alert for last week as severe weather gripped western North Dakota.
Tornado warnings dispatched between 8:25 and 10:42 p.m. heralded twisters that touched down in the county.
Law enforcement spotted a rural tornado near Arnegard that touched down for two minutes, county emergency manager Karolin Jappe said.
“Two minutes can do a lot of damage, but there was nothing there,” she said.
The National Weather Service confirmed a second tornado three miles west of Watford City, initially reported on social media. No damage came from either twister.
Funnel clouds appeared in the county as well, including one near Johnson Corners that moved up and down, the NWS reported, seen by a trained spotter.
Another funnel cloud moved over Watford City at 10:12 p.m.
“You could see where the cloud was right above the town at the time,” Medeiros said, who watched the skies from the Civic Center windows for a bit.
Hail fell in scattered spots and varying sizes throughout the county, including half-inch hail in Watford City and 11 minutes of golf ball-sized hail south of Fort Union Trading Post.
Hail also fell at places near Watford City and in Keene. Thunderstorms and wind gusts also occurred in the county.
Winds reached over 80 mph and some hail reached sizes of baseballs and oranges in places.
Damages included some broken windows, much hail damage to vehicles and broken tree branches, Watford City Police Chief Art Walgren said.
A 12x14 shed was blown off its foundation, Walgren added, and a fireman sustained minor injuries from hail.
No other injuries or major damage were reported, he added.
Power went out in northeast Watford City, Walgren added. Jappe said Alexander lost power for 12 hours as well.
Watford City also lost connection to state radio twice, both for short periods of time, Walgren said, and some cell phone communication was tied up.
Reservation Telephone Cooperative lost its backup generator in Alexander for a few hours Wednesday morning.
“For whatever reason, that thing started like it was supposed to, and then it overheated and blew the radiator,” said Brooks Goodall, RTC’s operations manager, “and then it was running on batteries and the batteries died at 6 in the morning and that killed pretty much everything.”
RTC restored power about 10 a.m. Wednesday after some rerouting.
Goodall added RTC will buy a new $50,000 backup generator for Alexander.
Once the first tornado was spotted on the ground, Walgren said Watford City’s eight sirens were activated, alerting people outdoors of the imminent weather.
The NWS warned Jappe earlier in the day of forecast hail, 70 to 80 mph winds and an isolated tornado. She prepares for such weather threats with the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System.
IPAWS alerts anyone within a radius Jappe draws on her computer of an emergency in their vicinity. The 90-character alerts go out through phone messages, radio and television, she said.
“It can be used for weather, it can be used for bad guys, an active shooter, anything, so that’s the beautiful part there,” she said.
While she sent out alerts during the severe weather, she saw cars parked on the hill near Watford City’s water tower, people ogling at the oncoming weather.
“There were way too many out on the streets,” she said. “We’re very susceptible to having tornadoes here.”
After living in an RV park during 2014’s EF2 tornado that injured nine people at a Watford City trailer park, Jappe said she knows the imminent danger being unsheltered can bring in tornado weather.
“It came so fast two years ago that we told the National Weather Service it was here before they told us it was here,” she said. “It happens so fast in the blink of an eye.”
For people living in trailer parks, like Medeiros’ sons, that “situation is very scary,” Jappe added.
Two years ago, Watford City had 63 RV parks, 28 mobile home parks and 40 lodging establishments, she said. With tornado season in full swing between May and July, Watford City is in prime time for twisters. Many people don’t know what to do, Jappe, Walgren and Medeiros all said.
With an unprecedented population of many people who don’t know certain tornado procedures, Jappe would like to get the word out about what to do and where to go.
For the most part, people should seek shelter in a windowless, enclosed space, Jappe said, like a basement or a closet within a bedroom.
Knowing what shelters are available is key too, though she and Walgren would like to inspect certain city buildings to make sure their basements are suitable as shelters.
“Before, we only needed one in the middle of the city, but now that we’re getting so big we need to designate some others on the outskirts so people don’t have to travel all the way across town to get to a shelter,” Walgren said.
The Civic Center drew about 100 people during the severe weather, Medeiros said, “Not as many as I’d hoped.”
While damage and injuries were minor, education and fine tuning still remains key for the area.
“You never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at you,” Walgren said, “so it’s important that we prepare and educate people.”