NEWELL | Audrey Ladson thought she had her newly remodeled house in Newell sold. An offer had just come from a potential buyer, she said.
But on Wednesday, she wiped away tears after learning the frame home had suffered an estimated $25,000 in damage from the onslaught of a fast-moving July thunderstorm that cut a swath of destruction across northwestern South Dakota on Tuesday night.
The storm formed in southeastern Montana at around 6 p.m. and saved its worst for the Newell and Vale areas in Butte County, pummeling homes, schools and buildings. Up to baseball-sized hail was reported, including near-hurricane strength winds and torrential rain.
Irrigated corn fields 9 miles south of Newell, particularly to the southeast of Vale, and other row crops were also hard hit. Reports of total losses started to come in early Wednesday.
Newell School Superintendent Robin Dutt had just returned from school administrator meetings in Chamberlain and spent the Wednesday morning assessing damage.
She found custodians already boarding up about 30 shattered windows in the school complex. Carpets in the entry way of the elementary-middle school addition were soaked in ankle-deep water from rain and hail blown through the open windows.
The damage will need to be repaired soon, as the first activities for the upcoming school year are only a couple of weeks away.
"This is the time of the year when the buildings were just starting to look nice," Dutt said. "They were just finishing cleaning up."
Showered with broken glass
Judy Broderson, her husband, John, and granddaughter Aaliyah Chiller rode out the brunt of the storm in the living room of their home at 318 Fourth St.
Hail, torrential rain and strong winds pummeled their house, garden and trees for about 30 minutes, she said, with the worst of the storm lasting about 10 minutes.
"We were paralyzed with fear," she said
The intense storm announced its arrival about 7:30 p.m. by blowing in their kitchen window, showering the room with shards of broken glass.
"Thankfully we weren't in there," Broderson said.
Though no one was injured, Broderson said Aaliyah cried when she found her pink bicycle outside, the vinyl seat covering stripped away and a pink basket fastened to the handlebars shattered into pieces.
Tears also flowed when she found flowerpots that had been placed in the kitchen window shattered on the floor.
"She cried and cried," Broderson said.
Aaliyah's parents, Katie Broderson and Ty Chiller, were in a vehicle when the storm hit. Ty said they "hightailed it" south on S.D. Highway 79 and rode out the storm at the Butte County-Meade County line.
"That was about the edge of it," he said.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Katie Pajorlie said the severe thunderstorm formed in southeast Montana, building in strength as it swept southeast across Harding, Butte, Meade and Haakon counties.
Winds of up to 100 mph and 2.75-inch diameter hail were reported in Butte County.
"It seemed it was about the strongest in the Newell area," Pajorlie said. "There were trees down and lot of broken windows."
The storm slowly weakened, with reports of dime-sized hail in eastern Meade County, and finally dissipated near Kadoka, Pajorlie said.
'Picking up the pieces'
Newell Hardware Store owner Julie VanDerBoom reopened the store minutes after the storm passed to provide sheets of plywood for those needing to cover smashed windows.
Butte County Sheriff Fred Lamphere had ordered plywood to be brought in from Belle Fourche and given to those who needed it, she said.
"We stayed open until people quit coming," VanDerBoom said.
Newell Mayor Mike Keolker said he didn't know of any injuries suffered from the storm. "I think I would have heard by now if there were any," he said.
Keolker said a wind gauge at the Butte Electric Co. office in Newell recorded a 93 mph blast just before it failed.
After devastating Newell, the storm continued its march to the southeast, ruining fields of corn just ready to be picked, stripping row after row of soybeans and sorghum fields.
Betty Pauley took stock of broken windows, trees that had lost leaves and especially mourned the loss of her flower garden at her rural home east of Vale.
"I had beautiful flowers yesterday," she said. "Today, I'm picking up the pieces and trying to figure out how we're going to get the windows fixed."
She said she felt worse for the renters on her fields who likely lost most of their corn crop to the whim of Mother Nature.
"This is South Dakota. It hails," said Pauley, 88. "But I wouldn't want to live anywhere else."
Harlan Schnell lives another half-mile east of Pauley on Valley Township Road. Also retired, his home also borders irrigated corn fields he rents for others to farm.
Corn that stood more than 6 feet high on Tuesday was little more than knee-high stalks Wednesday.
"This corn over here was just as high as your head and tasseling out," he said. "It was looking pretty good."
Schnell's garden looked worse, with what had looked to be a fine crop of summer squash now riddled with gouges and holes.
"There will be a few potatoes, but everything really got hammered," Schnell said.
Still further east on 136th Avenue, Kaylie Cox said her family sweet corn business took a heavy hit, with 18 acres of corn just ready to be picked lost to the storm.
"Actually we were going to start selling sweet corn this Saturday," Cox said.
The Coxs also lost 900 tomato plants and 40 acres of alfalfa. A field of sorghum just south of their home was beaten beyond recognition. A large water tank was tipped over in the wind.
Schnell, like most Butte County residents, was philosophical about the storm. It was just two years ago that another hail storm caused major damage further west in Belle Fourche and Nisland.
"Mother Nature just had a hiccup," Schnell said.