Tornado in northeast Bourbon County

By Jason E. Silvers and Nicole Garner
Fort Scott Tribune – April 29, 2014

Tammy Helm/Tribune photo. Friends and relatives gather at a dairy farm, located at 245th Street and Wagon Road, which took a hard hit from the tornado that struck near Hammond Sunday evening. Click on photos to view full-size image.

Tammy Helm/Tribune photo. Friends and relatives gather at a dairy farm, located at 245th Street and Wagon Road, which took a hard hit from the tornado that struck near Hammond Sunday evening. Click on photos to view full-size image.

Tammy Helm/Tribune photo. Bourbon County emergency personnel speak to a Burlington Northern Santa Fe employee who was on a train when a tornado blew two empty grain bins over on top of the train's engines. No one was injured when a tornado struck near the U.S. 69 and Soldier Road in the Hammond area.

Tammy Helm/Tribune photo. Bourbon County emergency personnel speak to a Burlington Northern Santa Fe employee who was on a train when a tornado blew two empty grain bins over on top of the train’s engines. No one was injured when a tornado struck near the U.S. 69 and Soldier Road in the Hammond area.

 

A tornado that blew through parts of northern Bourbon County Sunday evening left extensive damage in its wake but caused no reported injuries or deaths to people, officials said Monday.

The twister, which was a category EF0 or EF1, according to the National Weather Service (NWS), touched down north of Fort Scott near Hammond at U.S. Highway 69 and Soldier Road and traveled northeast.

Storm sirens blared through much of Bourbon County at about 5:30 p.m., when the twister began its path of destruction.

“Thankfully, no one was hurt or injured in any way that we know of,” Bourbon County Emergency Manager Will Wallis said. “There were no deaths other than livestock.”

Unofficial numbers county officials received showed two cattle were lost to the storm.

According to the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, which rates the strength of tornadoes based on damage they cause, an EF0 includes wind speeds estimated to be between 65 and 85 mph, while wind speeds in an EF1 twister can reach 86 to 110 mph.

Bourbon County Deputy Emergency Manager Shane Walker said the tornado touched down in a dirt field near Soldier Road and U.S. 69 and intensified the further it went north. County officials viewed and mapped tornado damage with an NWS official Monday morning.

“It was around the Hammond area,” Walker said. “We’re speculating an F0 or F1 was what the damage indicates. As it went north, it got a little bigger.”

Wallis said numbers that county officials had following an assessment of the storm as of Monday were “unofficial.”

“It was carrying a lot of debris in it that it scattered throughout fields and roads,” Wallis said. “It definitely left a debris field in its path. We tracked it all the way to Linn County and a little bit farther.”

Wallis said he was asked by Bourbon County Commissioner Barbara Albright to send some information about the tornado to U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran’s (R-Kan.) office.

After assessing the storm damage, incident commander Delwin Mumbower, coordinator for Bourbon County Fire District No. 3, said the biggest damage occurred in two spots; a dairy farm at 245th Street and Wagon Road and an area east of U.S. 69 just off Soldier Road where two grain bins near a fertilizer plant fell onto a stationary BNSF train.

“They took the brunt of it,” he said.

Mumbower said the tornado caused eight empty train cars to derail. The two grain bins, which were nearly empty, fell on top of the train. Two engineers in the train had been waiting on a northbound train and had no knowledge of the approaching twister.

There were no reported injuries and no hazards in the train cars “as far as chemicals,” Mumbower said.

Wallis said there was probably “close to 400 bushels” of grain in the bottom of each silo that toppled.

Although there were no reported injuries or deaths, the tornado “disrupted several families and their livelihoods,” Wallis said.

The dairy farm at 245th Street and Wagon Road “sustained quite a bit of damage,” Mumbower said.

“There was damage to the house, the barn was totally destroyed and about half a milk barn is gone,” he said. “It basically put him (the owner) out of business until he gets the power back on. I think he was trying to get a generator going … the cows have to be milked whether you can save the milk or not.”

Mumbower said he and other officials tracked the storm from the Hammond area up to 255th Street and Zinc Road at the Linn County line. Following the tornado, it took emergency officials about an hour to travel all roads in the affected path and do a complete assessment and determine if any injuries occurred. Agencies that responded to the storm to lend assistance included the Scott Township Fire Department, the Redfield Fire Department and the Fort Scott Fire Department, Mumbower said.

“A total of seven outbuildings and barns were totally destroyed, three houses had damage to them,” he said. “It was a good thing there were no injuries.

The tornado followed a “north by northeast” path along what was about a seven-mile track through Bourbon County, Mumbower said.

“I chased the storm just west of Fort Scott on Highway 54,” he said. “I tried to stay right behind it and watch it … it did produce a funnel three miles south of Devon.”

Mumbower said the National Weather Service “issued a tornado warning based on our observations.”

“Storm spotters were out (prior to the storm),” he said. “I had been on the phone with (Fort Scott Fire Chief) Paul Ballou and Shane Walker and we placed storm spotters around the county. I’m really glad we did because we were able to track the storm as it went across the county.”

During assessment of the storm, Wallis said officials talked with several people affected by the tornado, most of whom said they had insurance to deal with the damages.

Mumbower said there were still residents in the affected areas without power as of Monday.

Wallis said it was difficult to confirm how many residents had power restored to their homes but he and other officials who were out assessing damage saw utility trucks working in the areas.

“There were a lot of power lines down and poles broken off,” Mumbower said. “Electric company officials are already working on them (as of Monday).”

As far as clean-up, Wallis said the train derailment and toppled silos were cleaned off quickly to get the train moving again early Monday morning. He said the silos were to be disposed of. The rest of the clean-up process may take awhile, he said.

“I saw a lot of people doing clean-up, from individuals to farmers and ranchers, to individual homes,” he said. “I saw power being restored to a couple of particular places. There were downed limbs, fences … the clean-up will take awhile. If they have insurance, certain insurance companies want to see the damage before it’s cleaned up, so that could delay some people.”

Wallis said he was at home planning to finish some work in his wood shop near his house around the time the tornado struck.

“My wife was in the house monitoring,” he said. “The next thing, she goes outside, she was in the southwest part of our property, about 50 to 60 yards from the house and saw this big cloud coming up.”

His wife, Judy, then talked to him and they decided to go back inside and turn on weather reports to check the status of the storm.

“We got inside and I was grabbing a soda out of the icebox and Shane (Walker) calls me and says ‘It’s getting ugly.’ At that time, on short notice, we saw Delwin Mumbower go flying by to the east. My wife was looking; it passed over us. We were standing in the road looking off to the east and we could see the debris coming up, literally coming up. My wife said that was the first time she’s ever seen that happen and she’s lived here a long time. After that, we thought ‘Put your boots on, we’re gonna find out what’s going on.”

Wallis said while tracking the sky during the storm, they saw additional “fingers (of clouds) coming down from a hilltop to the north and east.”

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster