Thunderstorm batters county

By Jason Ferguson

Part of the steel ridge cap from the YMCA roof came to rest across the street and broke a window out of a car parked there.

The force of a wall of  thunderstorms that rolled through Custer County last week was felt from Dewey to Hermosa.

Trees were uprooted, power poles were snapped, barns were ravaged and a portion of the roof of the Custer YMCA ended up on 7th Street. While short-lived, the storm packed quite a punch.

Matthew Bunkers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the strongest wind report from the storm that rolled through town was around 75 mph at Rapid City Regional Airport, while the strongest official measure at the Custer County Airport was 69 mph. However, Bunkers said, with the damage inflicted in Custer, it’s quite possible there were gusts that reached 80 mph.

Lyla Lytle would agree with that, as she saw the wind pick up a 14×70 trailer home she was getting set to rent and smash it to the ground, pulverizing it. The wind also split her wooden garage door from top to bottom.

She said, while the trailer is a total loss, she is grateful nobody was living in it yet.

“Someone could have gotten hurt badly … or killed,” she said. “In my almost 92 years I’ve never seen the wind that hard in the Hills in the summer.”

Gary Woodford, Custer County Highway Department superintendent, is another long-time Custer resident who shared Lytle’s sentiment.

“I’ve never seen the wind blow straight hard like that,” he said. “The rain didn’t even hit the ground.”

Woodford said the wind downed trees on roads throughout the county that highway department staff had to move. And the trees that fell weren’t all dead.

Mike Chase, manager of marketing and member services at Black Hills Electric Cooperative, said, thanks to the co-op’s extensive rights-of-way maintenance program, the damage done to its system was not as bad as it would have been years ago.

Winds covered a broad area of the co-op’s service territory, but only four poles were broken: in the Mystic area, the Custer area, the Hermosa area and one near  Angostura.

Chase said co-op crews had difficulty getting to the damaged areas due to debris and trees down across the roads and wire breaks caused by trees going through the lines. Immediately after the storm, the co-op had almost 500 people without power. Most were back on within the first couple of hours after the storm, but the crews did not get all power restored to residences until about 2 a.m. Crews were in by 3:30 a.m. that morning.

Black Hills Energy also experienced downed lines and power outages and parts of town were without power into the next day. Black Hills Energy officials did not return a request for official storm damage comments prior to deadline.

City of Custer public works director Bob Morrison said, while many trees and branches hit the ground during the storm, they fortunately didn’t cause a great deal of damage.

“In all reality, it was nasty, but it could have been worse. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen trees bend that much before,” he said. “The worst part is it (hit) right before the busiest weekend of the summer.”

Morrison was confident the debris would be cleaned up for the start of the holiday weekend.

Perhaps the worst damage came at the Custer YMCA, where half of the old log building’s ridge cap blew off, sending steel and insulation flying. YMCA director Rex Jorgensen said the section 20 feet north of the building’s chimney to the south end of the building was gone.

One of the larger pieces of steel came down on a car parked on the east side of 7th street across from the YMCA, shattering its back window and causing roof and trunk damage.

The man whose car was hit had a good sense of humor about the situation.

“He asked me if I could get my roof off his car,” Jorgensen said with a laugh.

Another section of the roof landed behind the old LeRoy Hotel, pinning someone inside the house just to the south. Insulation was found as far away as the Custer Skate Park. Behind the YMCA there is a trailer that holds aluminum cans people donate for recycling. The cans flew all over town, including down Mt. Rushmore Road, where Claw, Antler and Hide owner Gary Gruber watched the procession fly down the street, likening the bouncing stream of cans to watching a car one might see in a wedding procession.

When the dust settled, Jorgensen said city workers came out of the woodwork to clean up the mess and patch the roof of the YMCA, which Blaede Enterprises began fixing the next day.

Jorgensen said he was at the YMCA when the roof came apart, saying he  heard noise, but thought it was metal from Custer Do-it-Best blowing away.

“It sounded like a freight train coming down the street,” he said. “I got to looking and said, ‘That’s not from Do-it-Best. It’s from here.’”

Boards, including 2x10s that were 12 feet long, came off the roof and stuck into the lawn of the YMCA.

“It was bizarre,” he said.