Now this is a headline that I never thought I would write for any news story or column: Tornadoes strike Wyoming.
But on Monday, June 12, sightings of up to 20 tornadoes were reported all across the state, luckily not killing anyone but causing lots of damage and scaring the heck out of everyone.
Along with that came 90 mph winds in some places and hailstones the size of baseballs.
It was a long night as power went out, trees came down and punishing wind, rain, and hail bombarded folks from little Otto up in northwest Wyoming to the State Capitol in Cheyenne some 400 miles away.
Just about everybody in between those two locations experienced some kind of oddball extreme weather event.
Perhaps the worst event was at the Lay Ranch, 30 miles north of Torrington.
This ranch family endured a terrible fire last year; then, during the tornado June 12, they lost just about every other structure that was still standing.
Michelle Lay reported on Facebook: “The barns are gone, the shop is gone, tractors are gone, just gone. We are thankful we are all still here and well. We’ll try to keep our heads up and our spirits, but bear with us, as this is tougher than the fire last year for us. If we seem grouchy or hurt please help us. We thank everyone for everything they’re doing and greatly appreciate it!”
According to a GoFundMe effort to raise $10,000 for the family, “ . . . had to put down two horses and take two horses into the vet to get stitched back up. The tornado took the big shop, and the big barn and just leveled it. Uprooted all the trees, have damages to the other 2 barns and the house. It has totaled out 2 horse trailers plus other vehicles.”
Up in Otto, a talented photographer, Michelle Olsen, was busy snapping images of tornadoes that swirled around her little town.
Damage was not extensive as there is an awful lot of empty ground up there; the images she was able to capture are amazing. Check out her Facebook page.
An early news report said that 20 tornadoes were reported in the state. The estimate was later lowered to 18 and in some reports, to 11.
Now 20 is a heckuva list of tornadoes but does anyone in Wyoming remember a time when more than one tornado was reported in the state?
There was a tornado 10 miles northeast of Cheyenne, another one near Pine Bluffs, a tornado touched down at Bar Nunn, north of Casper and tornado sightings were also in Kaycee and Otto.
Here in my hometown of Lander, we saw 72-mph gusts of wind with some places claiming gusts over 90 mph. Lots of trees down and more than 200 electrical power outages. Our home was off power from 7 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. Wind gusts of 67 were reported in Farson and 62 mph in Rock Springs. Wheatland also endured hailstorms.
Tom Satterfield of Cheyenne reports: “We were on our way back from Dubois, and noted a very large thunder cloud to the east.
“As we turned into Cheyenne everything changed. A hailstorm had just quit and people were coming out of their houses to assess the damage of billiard ball sized hail. Cars on the street had broken windshields and rear windows. The ground was white. We had shattered skylights and lots of hail and glass all over. We found anything that was plastic or terra cotta was smashed and there was about 12 to18 inches of branches and leaves all over the back yards. The poor Aspen trees had been almost denuded.
“Mark Stewart had been helping his parents Patty and Mack cover their broken skylights. He climbed on our roof and covered ours to keep out the bugs, birds and any rain. He was our angel. Those hail stones put deep depressions in my lawn (looks like it was aerated) and could have done serious damage to the human body. It was a memorable day where all I thought I had to do was drive home and cut my lawn.”
All this weather came as a result of fast-moving cold front, which stormed across Wyoming. The front not only cooled down the mountains slowing down flooding but also dumped measurable snowfall at high elevations all across the state.
Wyoming is well known as a windy state but as a tornado state? Not until June 12, 2017.
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books, which are available at fine stores. His latest is Wyoming at 125. His books are also available at wyomingwonders.com.