Storm blasts homes, cornfields

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Register/Richard Luken
This house owned by Tracy Smith east of Mildred and rented to Terry Ayers sustained major damage as a brief but ferocious thunderstorm pounded the home with hailstones and damaging winds. Several homes in Anderson, Allen, Bourbon and Franklin counties were damaged in Wednesday’s storm.

While much of Allen County was oblivious to storm clouds brewing overhead Wednesday afternoon, Tracy Smith had an up-close view of Mother Nature’s wrath.
Smith, principal at Uniontown High School, was spraying weeds on grassland he owns a few miles east of Mildred as the storm approached.
By mid-afternoon, a single thunderstorm cell that had developed over Ottawa in Franklin County slowly crept its way south across Anderson and finally Allen counties at about 3:30.
Amid the darkening skies was what appeared to be a wall cloud, Smith said, “although it was pretty long and it bowed.”
Smith headed back to his farm, parking his tractor inside his barn as a rainstorm quickly grew in intensity.
“I had every intention of parking my daughter’s Jeep and our other car in the barn, too,” he said. “But by the time I parked the tractor, about all I could do was stay in the barn and hold the door shut so the wind wouldn’t blow it open.”
The storm, accompanied by 60 mph winds, torrential rain and hailstones the size of quarters lasted for more than 30 minutes.
Smith emerged from the barn to find his house had taken a direct hit. A large tree limb had crashed through the roof into his daughter’s recently remodeled bedroom. Several windows had been blown away, and large, round hay bales had blown across his property. Straw from one bale wound up scattered inside his house.
His daughter’s jeep was buried beneath a downed sycamore tree. A basketball goal was blown on top of Smith’s car.
Another house Smith owns to the west sustained major damage as well, as the hail shredded the home’s vinyl siding and blasted out several windows.
“We’ve got a mess,” Smith said. “Luckily, nobody was hurt.”
The storm did considerable damage along an 80-mile swath stretching from Ottawa to past Uniontown in rural Bourbon County.
Several homes in Franklin, Anderson, Allen, Bourbon and Crawford counties sustained damage to windows and siding, with isolated reports of roofs being blown off. In addition, numerous power lines were downed, dozens of trees uprooted, barns and outbuildings demolished and a number of cornfields were reduced to little more than bent and broken stocks.
Williams counted at least 10 homes in Allen County with “minor” to “major” storm damage, most of which were near Mildred.
A pickup towing a large travel trailer near Bronson on U.S. 54 was blown over in the high wind, as were two tractor-trailers along Interstate 35 near Ottawa. There were no injuries.
The hail fell at such a rate that road crews almost were needed to clear paths along some roadways. Allen County Sheriff Tom Williams reported seeing drifts of hail 3 feet deep in some ditches.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen white ground in Kansas in the middle of July,” Williams said.
There was another visual oddity for motorists to contend with — fallen foliage. Several gravel roads were blanketed in green from leaves blown off of nearby trees.
Several workers from Allen County’s Public Works Department were summoned to the scene to clear downed trees from roadways. Crews worked until about 8:30 p.m., Public Works Director Bill King said.
“We focused on getting the roads cleared,” he said. “We’re back out there today to get the debris out of the ditches.”
King anticipates the county’s clean-up efforts will last through Friday.
Williams lauded the Public Works employees as well as electric company workers who were on the scene shortly after the storm left the area.
“They did a tremendous job,” the sheriff said.

SEVERAL HOMES in Bronson had windows broken and damaged siding as well, City Clerk Ellen Harper reported.
The Associated Press reported that high winds also pulled roofs from a motel and a small airplane hangar in Ottawa.
In Anderson County, cars and trucks were blown off the road by winds estimated at 80 mph. Dozens of power poles were snapped, affecting hundreds of customers.
Michelle Miller, Anderson County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, told the Register that efforts are under way to open a shelter for displaced residents in Garnett, perhaps as soon as this evening. At least 10 percent of the town was without power, “and we know we’re going to have to deal with the heat soon,” she said. “Normally, we’d use the high school, but that’s one of the places without power.”
Wednesday’s events also illustrated the fickle nature of Kansas weather.
The storm’s swath was so narrow that, while the skies darkened overhead, the western half of Allen County received nary a drop of rain. And corn and soybean fields less than four miles from those devastated by the wind and hail were untouched.