People injured, and homes destroyed and damaged after tornado hits Baker, Mont.

BAKER, Mont. — An unknown number of people were injured, at least two homes were destroyed and as many as a dozen others were damaged after a tornado struck the east side of Baker just before 7 p.m. Saturday.

Dean Butori, the Fallon County deputy director of emergency services, said it’s believed the tornado touched down inside the southeast Montana city of about 1,900 people. Baker is about 15 miles from the North Dakota border and 100 miles southwest of Dickinson.

The damage, while not widespread, was significant.

“I’ve lived here my whole life. It’s the worst destruction I’ve seen,” said Steve Baldwin, a Fallon County commissioner and Baker resident was is acting as the Department of Emergency Services spokesperson.

A photo of the tornado that struck Baker, Mont., on Saturday evening. (Submitted photo)
A photo of the tornado that struck Baker, Mont., on Saturday evening. (Submitted photo)

Baldwin said he didn’t know how many people were injured or hospitalized, but “everyone is accounted for.”

“We’re just getting ready to go in and do a second assessment here, just to double check everything,” he said shortly after 10:30 p.m. Saturday.

Baldwin said electricity is out on the east side of Baker and that landline telephones are down.

He said at least seven homes were confirmed to have sustained significant damage. Two were destroyed and roofs were pulled off of at least five, he said. He said it’s very likely that others are also damaged.

“I was just right at the center of it there — the part that got hit the worst,” he said.

Baldwin said everyone is thankful no one was killed in the tornado because of the amount of activities taking place. Not only was Little League baseball being played at the time, the Montana High School Rodeo Association State Finals were being held not far from where the tornado tore apart homes.

Lori Hall, an off-duty 911 dispatcher who lives on the east side of Baker, said she saw the tornado form outside of the front door of her home and then watched as it hit her neighbors houses.

“The whole house is gone,” Hall said of one home not far from her own. “The neighbors dug them out. They were the first ones to be rescued.”

Hall said she saw an RV camper be lifted off the ground and get sent airborne by the storm, and watched as a horse fought to run against the high winds. She added that she later saw the same horse safe with its handler.

Emergency responders from Bowman County, N.D., and other neighboring Montana counties were called in to assist their Fallon County and Baker counterparts, Baldwin said.

The first report of the tornado was at 7 p.m., according to Todd Chambers, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Billings, Mont.

Chalmers said the tornado was relayed to them by a storm spotter four miles to the east of Baker.

He said a more accurate time of impact may be around 6:55 p.m. Chalmers said he viewed video and photos of the tornado impacting the town.

More information about the strength and the path of the tornado will become clear Sunday, he said. The National Weather Service is sending a team to Baker to collect data.

Chalmers said the storm system moved northeast to the Montana-North Dakota line, but it is unknown if it caused any further damage.

Photo submitted by Lori Hall
Photo submitted by Lori Hall

Derek Smith, a storm chaser from Oklahoma, said he got to Baker after the tornado had gone through.

“It was very confined. It’s very sporadic. It’s freaky how they work,” said Smith, who works for Live Storms Media. “One home was destroyed (but) the outbuilding, a metal shed, was totally unharmed with a lawnmower in it.”

Baker resident Dean Wang, who was working at the rodeo, said it was evacuated as contestants and spectators were taken to a storm shelter underneath the grandstand.

Wang said he watched as the tornado “touched down over (Lake Baker) and damaged several homes on the east side of town.”

He said the second round of the rodeo finals were suspended for the evening and will resume at 7 a.m. Sunday, but only if there is an ambulance available to be on scene. If not, Wang said the rodeo may have to be delayed further.

Erratic weather brings ups, downs during harvest for area farmers

The only delay Lenci Sickler saw this week in his family’s spring wheat harvest was a combine that broke down Wednesday.

North of Dickinson, farmers like Sickler haven’t been affected much by the colder temperatures and rain showers that have hindered their counterparts south of town since Sunday.

“We’ve kind of been in a weird pocket here where we’re at,” Sickler said during a phone interview while driving a combine.

In rural Hettinger County between New England and Regent, Jon Stang hasn’t been so lucky.

“We’re shut down for the day,” Stang said.

Continue reading “Erratic weather brings ups, downs during harvest for area farmers”

Small fires point to dry conditions in southwest N.D.

Dickinson Fire Department firefighters Russ Murphy, rear, and Levi Hammond, talk after quelling a fire Friday afternoon near Second Nature greenhouse on south State Avenue in Dickinson.
Dickinson Fire Department firefighters Russ Murphy, rear, and Levi Hammond, talk after quelling a fire Friday afternoon near Second Nature greenhouse on south State Avenue in Dickinson.

Three small grass fires near and in Dickinson the past two days have shown area authorities and meteorologists just how dry southwest North Dakota is.

While temperatures are on an upward trend — the National Weather Service predicts that highs will be in the 40s this weekend and the 50s early next week — there’s no precipitation in the 14-day forecast.

“It’s quite dry out there and certainly this would be the time of year that’s more susceptible to grass fires,” said Bill Abeling, a meteorologist with the weather service.

Continue reading “Small fires point to dry conditions in southwest N.D.”

Dickinson hits 61 degrees, sets record again

T.J. Davie, a Floridian working on a home in Dickinson for Tommy Thompson Contracting, took advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures Tuesday to work without a shirt.

Dickinson shattered a temperature record Tuesday, hitting 61 degrees and breaking the old record, set in 2008, by 10 degrees.

Temperatures fell just short of the all-time January high for the city, according to the National Weather Service. It was 63 degrees on Jan. 23, 1981. Tuesday, however, was the third-hottest January day ever recorded in Dickinson.

Unfortunately, the warm weather won’t last forever.

April Cooper, a meteorologist with the NWS in Bismarck, said a strong ridge is filtering warm air from the South toward the Great Plains and the Dickinson area has benefited from that. But by the weekend, temperatures are expected to be closer to an average of 24 degrees with a chance of snow expected Saturday.

“It’ll still be well above average through Friday,” she said. “As we get into the weekend, we’ll have a little bit of a cold front move through.” Wednesday’s highs are expected to be around 45 degrees — still almost 20 degrees above normal, according to the NWS.

Blowing snow keeps street crews busy

A group of men, including a Dickinson Fire Department employee, helps push a stuck car that skidded into a drift on the northbound side of Highway 22 on Thursday afternoon.

Snow. Blow. Scrape. Repeat.

The snow removal business in Dickinson has been busy this week, Dickinson’s street maintenance manager Brent Coulter said — and crews didn’t get any relief Thursday as high winds sent snow drifting across city streets throughout the day.

“We’ve had every piece of equipment and every operator available moving snow,” Coulter said Thursday afternoon, adding the city has two contractors assisting in the cleaning efforts.

Often, he said, crews would clean a street and head to the next sketchy spot, only to get calls saying the area they had just cleared was blowing shut again.

“The wind is killing us right now,” Coulter said. Continue reading “Blowing snow keeps street crews busy”

August rains could be good for late crops

Early August rainfall could be a blessing for crops that were planted later than usual, area farmers and agronomists said this week.

The first week of August in southwest North Dakota — typically hot and dry — was defined by heavy rains, daily showers, early-morning fog and below-normal temperatures.

It’s not exactly the type of weather farmers like to see — at least in a normal year. But this has not been a normal growing year.

Continue reading “August rains could be good for late crops”

NO SPRINKLERS: Record-setting water usage leads Dickinson to ban use of outdoor

There will be no running through the sprinklers to cool off in Dickinson this weekend.

Dickinson officials have issued a ban on all outdoor water use over the weekend after a day of record-setting usage left the city’s systems strained.

City Administrator Shawn Kessel said Dickinson used 5.7 million gallons of water Thursday, the most in its history.

“Our water distribution network is not able to keep up with the record-setting demand that we are having,” Kessel said.

Continue reading “NO SPRINKLERS: Record-setting water usage leads Dickinson to ban use of outdoor”