KILLDEER -- Eric Fleming was hoping to spend his birthday having fun and enjoying the sights and sounds of the Medora Musical on Sunday night. Instead, he spent the evening boarding up windows and cleaning up glass after a thunderstorm that produced high winds and golf-ball-sized hail tore through his hometown of Killdeer.
“It just kind of looks like a bomb went off,” Fleming said. “I’ve worked outside all my life, I’ve seen a lot of storms. But this one -- just seeing it on the radar I knew it was going to be really bad one.”
Fleming said he and his fiancee, Ann McKinney, were about two-thirds of the way to Medora when Ann’s mother called her and told her that hail was coming into the house and hitting the bathtub in their home. He said they quickly turned around and came back to Killdeer, only to find most of their back windows blown out and the backyard torn apart with dead birds lying in what little was left of his garden. The hail came in at such high speeds that it pelted the ground, leaving divots that were up to 2 inches deep.
The storm, which produced winds as high as 75 mph and hail more than 3 inches in diameter, lasted nearly 20 minutes and caused extensive damage to west-facing windows and siding on homes.
Denise Brew, the Dunn County emergency manager, said cars that were parked outside also received heavy damage. She believed any vehicle that was outside during the storm was more than likely totaled. She described the initial scene as looking “like a war zone.”
Hayden Horne and his friend were in Horne’s pickup truck trying to get to Williston when the storm hit. Horne said they made it about a 1,000 yards before they were forced to take refuge next to a building to try and block the hail from coming into the truck. He said he handed his friend his coat to keep over his head in order keep him safe from the shards of glass that had broken off of the windshield.
“Dan was like, ‘Hey look at all of that rain,’ and I said, ‘That definitely isn’t rain,’” Horne said. “Then it hit and it was just crazy. It looked like the end of the world was coming.”
Killdeer Mayor Chuck Muscha said the sewage and water system is still up and running in the town and now they are trying to make sure the town has enough garbage trucks to help with the cleanup process. He said if anyone needs help boarding up their windows, they can contact the city to coordinate volunteers to help out. However, he said that despite the amount of damage most homes received he believes that all residents are still living in their homes.
Steve Krabill, who lives in a trailer park off of North Dakota Highway 22, described the noise of hail hitting his home as sounding like “fireworks” going off near by. He expressed concerns as to why the storm sirens never went off in the town.
He said he had been following the storm on his phone but never got an alert or heard sirens coming from town.
Brew said initial reports have led officials to believe the bulk of the storm was heading toward Manning instead of Killdeer, but the storm changed directions quickly, leaving Killdeer in its path. She said there just wasn’t time to set off the sirens and that they want people to be aware that the sirens are only supposed to go off if a tornado has been spotted.
Brew said that a tornado did touch down in a field just east of Manning, but the ordeal was over fairly quickly, once again leaving little time to actually give a proper warning to citizens. She said the county may assess whether or not it is necessary to also sound the sirens during severe weather.
“It was just kind of freak storms in a way,” she said. “It happened so quick we just could not keep up with everything.”
Michael Mathews, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service out of Bismarck, said while there was not a tornado warning out at the time for Dunn County, he had heard of multiple reports of funnel clouds in the area. He said the storm was considered severe until it reached Lake Sakakawea, but did not receive any reports beyond the lake.
Hill Top Home of Comfort, Killdeer’s assisted living facility, was also impacted by the storm.
Tara Bohmbach, a nurse manager at the facility, arrived after the storm had passed but said the devastation the storm caused was “amazing.” She said the nursing home’s garden in the backyard was nearly unrecognizable and that hail had pounded into picnic tables, leaving them with large, gaping holes.
A majority of the skylights throughout the facility were also broken during the storm.
She said despite all of that, she is grateful that everyone was OK. Bohmbach said around 60 volunteers showed up to help keep the residents calm and to begin to board up windows following the storm.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a quiet dinner time,” Bohmbach said. “Everyone was just trying to remain calm as possible. The residents, they sometimes follow our reactions. So, if we’re calm then they’ll stay calm so that was important for us.”
Gary Leadbetter, the facility’s administer said the home’s assisted living facility, which is still under construction, received significant damage that would definitely set the project back. As of Monday afternoon, he wasn’t sure how much the damages would cost. He said although they did have to move some residents around Sunday during the storm to keep them safe, they were hoping to be able to board up windows and clean rooms to get residents back in.
Killdeer now begins the cleanup process. Muscha said volunteers have come from all around the area to try and lend a helping hand to the people of Killdeer. He said although the town feels that it has a sufficient number of volunteers, it wouldn’t turn people away if they wanted to come help.
“It’s tremendous when stuff like that happens and all of the sudden volunteers show up,” Muscha said.
Fleming said he feels that helping one another is the best thing everyone can do now. He said he helped his neighbor board up windows on her camper and just wants to help everyone in whatever way he can.
“About all you can do is help right now,” Fleming said. ““You don’t know where to start. I guess you just start raking in a corner and go from there. ... We’re all still alive and kicking, which is what counts I guess.”