WAKARUSA — High winds from an EF-1 tornado toppled silos, ripped off roofs and smashed barns Monday night, leaving residents shaken but uninjured.
The tornado was one of two to strike the area.
Meteorologist Nathan Marsili of the National Weather Service’s office in North Webster, said another EF-1 tornado touched down a mile from North Webster in Kosciusko County. The North Webster tornado touched down west of Ind. 13 and was on the ground for 1.5 miles and lasted 3 minutes. That twister dissipated over Lake Webster, according to the NWS staff. The Wakarusa tornado began just west of the Riley and Beech roads intersection in St. Joseph County and traveled 2.5 miles along the south side of Riley Road (C.R. 44 in Elkhart County) for five minutes. EF-1 tornadoes can have winds up to 110 mph, according to Marsili.
He added that the tornadoes were the first recorded locally in 2020.
The rural area southwest of Wakarusa that is dotted with large farms in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties was hard hit by the tornado that was spawned in a line of thunderstorms that traveled from South Dakota to Ohio. The trouble began around 6 p.m. in the lakeside cities and towns in Berrien County, Michigan, and then blew through Elkhart County starting at 6:30 p.m., according to NWS records.
“I run out to close the west barn door and all of a sudden it just started roaring,” said Jason Martin, whose farm is located along C.R. 1 south of C.R. 44.
He then ran back to his house and he heard large tree limbs striking his house. Monday morning his front yard was still covered with large parts of maple trees. The house’s roof and porch were damaged.
“I feel pretty lucky,” he said, referencing the worse plight of his neighbor Bob Weldy.
Weldy is a retired farmer. Tuesday he was sorting out the damage to his house, barns and silos. While workers scrambled onto the house roof to replace it, a long 2-by-4 from an outbuilding stuck out of the side of his house where the wind had embedded it.
“I went to the main part of the house, which is three layers of brick thick,” Weldy said of his experience with the storm, “I thought the back part of the house was going to blow away when that 2-by-4 came through. But it quieted out. It didn’t last long. But all this metal flying around made an awful lot of noise.”
The metal he was referring to was his large grain silos behind the house and the walls and roofs of his barns. The roof that once covered his vintage tractor collection was mostly gone and one of his four silos was crumpled on the ground where the storm left it.
Across the street, Bob’s sister-in-law Caroline Weldy was checking what was left of her large vegetable garden. The storm flattened about half of it. Elsewhere in the yard her husband, Walt, was cutting up about half a tree that was on the ground. Out front, a work crew from Timar Construction had arrived to remove more tree limbs and sweep up the yard and driveway, where some of the cedar roofing shingles from Bob’s historic home had blown in.
West along C.R. 44, Casey Weldy was thankful his family is alive.
“The thing I keep telling myself is it is just stuff,” Casey said as he took a break from using a skid loader to clear debris from his farmyard along C.R. 44.
He said he was not home at the time of the storm but his wife, Traci, and their 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son were. On Tuesday, the trees around the home were ripped apart and their limbs were on the house and filled the yard.
Part of his barn roof was ripped off but his cattle were unhurt.
The farmhouse across the road from Casey is owned by Dick Holdeman and used by a farm employee, according to Lori Hahn, Holdeman’s daughter.
The wind pushed over a fuel tank, damaged silos and removed the roofs from the house and barns.
As C.R. 44 becomes Riley Road in St. Joseph County, Kyle Lehman stood near a mound of debris that had been a barn the previous day.
“We had a lot of tree damage,” he said. “Some of our grain bins came down. A barn was standing here before, but that is completely gone. So, it was quite the night.”
Lehman waved his hand behind him toward a 40-acre field and said most of the barn was out in that field somewhere.
Lehman had just completed mowing his yard and was putting the mower away in the garage when the storm hit. Trees and a power line fell across the garage door, trapping him unharmed inside.
The only local casualties of the storm were three dairy cows at the Sam Royer farm at 11300 Riley Road. The wind cut the Royer’s long dairy barn in half, injuring the cows, which Royer said he had to euthanize.
The damage to the barn occurred in just a few moments.
“We were milking and the electric power went off,” Royer said. “So, we came out. My boy came out and said, ‘It’s a tornado.’ I came out behind him. I don’t know how he knew. Later he said he saw metal coming up in the air. I don’t know how he knew but I headed for the house and it was over before I got there.”
Royer said that shortly after the storm passed, he hooked up a generator and was able to finish milking his large herd and friends and family began arriving to clean up.
“It could have been worse,” he added.
In Fort Wayne, Isabel E. Atencio died at a hospital after firefighters pulled her from debris inside her mobile home after high winds rolled it onto its side Monday night, officials said. Firefighters found the 73-year-old woman under debris inside her toppled trailer and discovered that she was clutching a 5-year-old boy believed to be her grandson, said Adam O’Connor, deputy chief of the Fort Wayne Fire Department. The boy had minor injuries.
“They had to stabilize the trailer, crawl inside the trailer, find the two victims and bring them out,” O’Connor said.
“It’s awful. I was thinking about that all last night,” he said.
Iowa officials reported roofs torn off homes and buildings, vehicles blown off roads and hit by trees, and people hurt by flying debris. One death and dozens of injuries were reported in the state.
A 63-year-old bicyclist died after he was struck by one of several large trees that fell Monday on a bike trail outside of Cedar Rapids near Ely, the Linn County sheriff’s office said. Thomas Rowland of Solon, Iowa, suffered extensive injuries and died at the scene, the office said.
Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said 60 patients have been treated at local hospitals for storm-related injuries.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.