Perhaps feeling a little upstaged by the Pyrotechnics Guild International convention in Gillette this week, Mother Nature put on her own impressive display Wednesday night, dropping hail as large as tennis balls, rain and an unconfirmed tornado sighting.
The thunderstorm brought the big guns at about 10 p.m., said David King, Campbell County’s emergency management coordinator. The storm was enough to delay the PGI public fireworks show more than 90 minutes.
“We had hail, we had rain, we had a tornado — we got the whole nine yards,” King said. “It looks like cars in the parking lot at the airport got nailed with hail.”
He said the reports of hail ranged in size from nickels to tennis balls and seemed more severe on the east and north side of Gillette from the airport to Freedom Hills. At his house, King said the hailstones were small, but noisy.
“They were just nickel-sized wannabes,” he said. “But they sounded like little rocks hitting up there.”
King said he had heard reports Thursday morning of damaged vehicles and broken windshields and “wouldn’t be surprised at all” if siding was stripped off some homes and there is damage to roofs.
A previous severe hailstorm that blew through July 17 caused an estimated $40 million in damage, but King said it’s too soon to tally an estimate for Wednesday’s storm.
Kelli Paul was sitting in a chair in her living room when she heard the first hailstone hit her home on Colorado Street.
She screamed and jumped out of her chair. Right after, another hailstone broke through the window that was next to the chair. If she hadn’t jumped out, “I would’ve gotten cut,” she said.
The hail hit so hard, the broken pieces of glass hit the opposite wall in her double-wide mobile home.
Paul said she’s heard some loud noises in her life.
“But this was beyond anything I’ve ever heard,” she said. “It was kind of like fireworks, without the lights, and right by your ear.”
Paul, her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter were in the home at the time of the storm, but they weren’t harmed. And neither were Paul’s three dogs, although “they were a mess” psychologically.
“It was like 3 in the morning, and they were still following me around. They wouldn’t let me leave their sight,” she said. “They finally calmed down at 6:30.”
Kayla Theroux, just two doors down from Paul, had just laid down to go to sleep when she heard the hail.
“Instantly, I knew what it was,” she said. “My initial reaction was, ‘again?’”
It damaged the siding of her house and broke some windows. Her car suffered $5,800 in damage from the July 17 hailstorm. After Wednesday night, she has to get it reassessed.
“I’m just glad I didn’t get it fixed already,” she said.
Theroux was able to get some sleep after duct taping the broken windows.
“I slept pretty good afterward,” she said.
Paul was not so lucky, as she had not found the time to sleep at all. She said the July 17 hailstorm broke her skylight. Wednesday’s storm completely shattered it.
All they need to live comfortably, she said, is to have the windows and roof covered up. The rest can wait, and she’ll have to wait about six to eight weeks.
The show went on
At Morningside Park at Cam-plex, the thunderstorm interrupted the show for more than 90 minutes King said, but didn’t cancel it.
The storm hit with two displays left in the show, said a PGI spokesman. The display that was already loaded in the tubes and ready to launch got wet and had to be set off Wednesday night.
That’s because if fireworks get wet, the black powder inside them will become unstable if allowed to dry out, King said.
If that happens, “all you have left are basically bombs,” he said.
“That show that was in the tubes already was wet and if they had let it dry, it becomes a hazmat cleanup,” he said. “When black powder gets wet then dries out, it becomes unstable, so wet fireworks are a concern. It’s better to just shoot them off than let them dry out.”
The display that didn’t get launched as part of Wednesday’s show has been added to Friday’s final PGI public show.
That the storm didn’t cause more of a disruption for the PGI members and those attending Wednesday’s show was due in large part to cooperation from the National Weather Service office in Rapid City, South Dakota, King said. The NWS sent a weather spotter, Keith Sherburn, to observe the storm throughout the evening and update PGI and local officials beginning hours before the event.
Wetter than normal
At the Weather Service office in Rapid City, the reports of hail and a possible tornado were similar, said Jon Chamberlain, a meteorologist with the agency.
“We had reports of large hail,” he said, adding that “it was a pretty good-sized storm. It blew in quick and was a very strong storm.”
It clipped around the north edge of Gillette and spared much of the city the larger, damaging hail, Chamberlain said.
Overall, he estimates about a half to three-quarters of an inch of rain fell, bringing the total rainfall for the year in Gillette to 13.25 inches, well above the normal of 10.03 inches. For August so far, the 0.76 inches measured is on pace for the month’s average.
As for the reported tornado, both King and Chamberlain said they received reports of it touching down southwest of Rozet. Photos show a tornado, but it also was dark and so far there’s been no evidence found that a twister actually touched down.
The next several weeks will be busy for Theroux, Paul and the rest of the residents who were affected by Wednesday’s storm.
“I had to put in a new claim with my insurance company,” Paul said. “Now I have two claims, both for hail damage, a month apart. It’s crazy.”
Right now, she feels overwhelmed, because besides the damage to the house, the storm “got my stuff out here that I care about, got my granddaughter’s toys, it got the cars.”
“They’re material things. I will get over it,” she said. “It’s just going to take me a while.”