Worst Tornadoes In South Dakota: History and Impact

June 3, 2024

The state of South Dakota has a rich history of tornado activity, impacting communities and landscapes in significant ways. Here, we delve into the statistics, historical impacts, measurement systems, and some notable tornadoes that have left their mark on South Dakota.

General Tornado Statistics in the U.S. and South Dakota

The National Weather Service has recorded 1,008 tornadoes in the U.S. since the start of the year, although none have been reported in South Dakota yet. On average, the state experiences 19 tornadoes annually, with June being the peak month. This seasonal concentration results in increased vigilance and preparedness for residents during this period.

Historical Impact of Tornadoes in South Dakota

Since 1950, South Dakota has witnessed tornadoes that resulted in 18 fatalities, 465 injuries, and over $300 million in property and crop damage. The destruction caused by these weather events has had profound impacts on communities, economy, and the landscape over the decades.

Tornado Measurement Systems

The Fujita (F) Scale

Introduced in 1971 by Tetsuya Fujita, the Fujita scale combined wind speed, damage, and path length to categorize tornadoes. This system helped in standardizing the assessment of tornado severity and understanding their potential impacts.

The Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale

The EF scale replaced the Fujita scale in 2007 to provide more accuracy. Using 28 damage indicators, the EF scale offers a more nuanced analysis of tornado strength and damage, aiding in better preparedness and response measures.

Significant Tornadoes in South Dakota's History

May 8, 1965 - Tripp County

Tripp County experienced the strongest F-5 tornado, a mile-wide monster with a 30-mile path, causing $300 million in damage. Remarkably, there were no fatalities, but significant structural damages, including homes and vehicles, were reported.

May 21, 1962 - Mitchell, SD

This F-3 tornado caused $2.5 million in damage and injured 32 people. One of the notable injuries was DeWayne Hohn, who later succumbed to head injuries sustained during the event.

July 31, 1966 - McPherson County

With an F-2 rating, this tornado resulted in four fatalities and $250,000 in damages. It was particularly notable for throwing a car 500 feet and causing extensive structural damage.

July 23, 1973 - Pierre, SD

Western Pierre faced an F-3 tornado causing damages estimated between $165,000 and $5 million. Ten people were injured as the tornado wreaked significant structural havoc.

June 16, 1992 - Fort Thompson

An F-3 tornado destroyed numerous homes and mobile homes, leaving 55 homeless and injuring eight people. The area suffered widespread structural and agricultural damage.

"Tornado" by Frank Peters is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

May 30, 1998 - Spencer, SD

Spencer was hit by an F-4 tornado which became the second deadliest in the state's history. Most of the town suffered destruction, with an $18 million damage toll. The tragic event resulted in six fatalities and 150 injuries.

Noteworthy Tornado Events

June 4, 1999 - Oglala, SD

An F-2 tornado caused one fatality and 40 injuries in Oglala, SD. The tornado produced grapefruit-sized hail and left extensive home damages in its wake.

June 24, 2003 - Manchester, SD

Manchester faced destruction from an F-4 tornado during the infamous "Tornado Tuesday". This violent storm destroyed the town and recorded a barometric pressure drop, now leaving Manchester a ghost town.

May 10, 2015 - Delmont, SD

An EF-2 tornado devastated Delmont, destroying 44 houses and injuring nine people. The community faced significant structural impact and has been in the process of rebuilding since.

Personal Accounts and Survivor Stories

Personal experiences from individuals affected by these tornadoes add a human element to these descriptive events. Survivors like William Musilek, Don Zeller, Elgin Bad Heart Bull, and Jeremy Daughtery have shared their tales of resilience and recovery, underlining the importance of community response and support during such disasters.

The history and impact of tornadoes in South Dakota underline the volatility of nature and the resilience of communities. Through understanding past events and improving measurement systems, preparedness and response to such destructive forces are continually being enhanced.

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