Lightning has struck at least three structures across Pennington County since Sunday.

A radar tower belonging to the National Weather Service's Rapid City office is reportedly the latest to be hit. According to the weather service, the tower in New Underwood ceased responding late Tuesday when an electrical storm surged through the area.

"We're thinking that there was a lightning strike near the radar last night," Weather Service meteorologist Keith Sherburn said Wednesday.

Radar service had not been restored by Wednesday afternoon, Sherburn said, leaving the weather service to instead rely on satellite imaging and ground reports to gather weather information. Technicians have not brought it back online or determined an official cause for its loss of power, he said.

A half-inch of rain fell in downtown Rapid City on Tuesday night, according to the weather service. Several thousand reports of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes were submitted to the weather service on Tuesday from across the area that it monitors, a region that includes parts if southwestern North Dakota, southeastern Montana and a portion of Nebraska in addition to southwestern South Dakota. 

"We don’t often have that widespread of lightning activity,” Sherburn said.

The downing of the weather service radar comes just days after both a local church and a fire station were struck by lightning. Both events occurred Sunday but neither resulted in any injuries.

No one was present at the Calvary Baptist Church in southeast Rapid City when lightning struck the cross mounted on its facade, Associate Pastor Chris Causey said Wednesday. Church staff learned the building had been hit around 1 p.m. after responding to a fire alarm.

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"We've been up here since 1980 and that’s never happened to us," Causey said. "It’s kind of an amazing thing.”

At first, Causey said it wasn't even clear that lightning struck the building. Staff only realized that the wooden cross had been hit upon finding fragments of it strewn across the property, some of which Causey said were seven feet long. 

Though visibly damaged, the cross remains standing. Causey said the cost of the damage to the church has not yet been totaled.

Later that afternoon, lightning struck the Rapid City Fire Department station at 1930 Promise Road, knocking out its phone and fire alarm systems as well as its backup generator. Department Spokesperson Jim Bussell said the incident did not disrupt the department's ability to respond to emergencies reported that night.

Firefighters were at the station when it was hit and observed what Bussell described as a "bright flash" accompanied by a thunderclap that shook the building. Repairs to the station's phone and alarm systems were largely wrapped up by Sunday evening, he said.

That a building equipped with several lightning rods could still be affected by an electrical storm illustrates the threat that electrical storms can present, Bussell said.

"It just really goes to show how dangerous those can be,” he said.

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— Contact Matthew Guerry at matthew.guerry@rapidcityjournal.com

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