BY TRIBUNE STAFF
Shortly after 4 p.m. on Thursday the National Weather Service called a severe thunderstorm warning for Barton County, with storms traveling southeast, north of Hoisington and Claflin. Quarter-sized hail and damage to roofs and vehicles was expected.
But as people in Great Bend looked to the skies, it appeared the storm would pass to the north. Not so. Around 5 p.m., Great Bend Police reported very heavy rain and zero visibility at the intersection of Main and 10th streets.
Joey Zimmerman, 373 NE 17 Ave., sustained damage to his property north of Barton Community College, including half the roof of a new 40 by 50-foot shed, shingles blown off his residence, and his pool cover blown off. A neighbor also sustained damage to the roof of his home, with a strip about eight feet by 40 feet torn off, Zimmerman reported. Zimmerman owns several convenience stores in Great Bend, but did not know of any damage to his commercial properties as of Friday morning.
“We were outside, watching the weather reports, and thought the storm had passed us when suddenly the wind came up,” he said. “We went inside, and it hit like that. It was mean.”
Max and Tammy Owens of Skelly Town, Texas, rode the storm out in a fifth-wheel camper parked beneath a cottonwood tree at the Cottonwood Grove RV Park, 2800 North Main. “We were scared,” Tammy said.
As the wind and rain whipped their trailer, they could hardly hear each other inside. “We prayed the Lord’s Prayer over-and-over. We prayed loud so we knew both of us could hear it.”
They emerged to find a massive limb from one of the cottonwoods had snapped and fallen, crushing both their GMC Arcadia crossover SUV and Dodge Ram pick-up. The branch had missed the camper entirely.
Ironically, they had moved to the new park from another one near Great Bend because they felt exposed in their camper due to the lack of trees there.
Meanwhile, in town the winds blew down tree limbs onto cars and the roadway, bringing down power lines in places.
Along 19th Street, trees were reported in the roadway of the 2200 block, and a fire was reported behind 2545 19th around 5:15 p.m. emergency responders were put on alert about numerous fires reported around the city.
Power lines were reported down near Countryside Veterinary Associates at 2900 Main St., with arcing on the ground between two vehicles. Reports continued to come in Friday morning around town as residents surveyed damage and found additional utility lines down.
Chris Huber, Superintendent for Wheatland Electric in Great Bend, said most of the damage to power lines was confined to the area around 24th and Washington St., where 600 customers were affected for about four hours Thursday night.
“It could have been a whole lot worse,” he said.
There were several other small outages scattered around town. A primary power line was brought down when a tree was blown into a house at 1105 Morton St.
Great Bend Fire Chief Mike Napolitano reminded people to stay away from downed power lines. “You don’t know if they’re energized.”
Other locations with lines down were 2549 19th St., 1105 Morton and the intersection of Odell Street and Shawnee Drive.
With the storm hitting around 5 p.m., many crews needed to be called back into work, Huber said. They worked through the night, prioritizing efforts as calls came in.
Lightening was another factor for the linemen. Workers monitoring substations saw quite a few blinks from breakers tripped from strikes.
We can’t send our people out into the full force of the storm. We don’t want linemen working with lightening in the area,” Huber said. “To their cred, our linemen are excellent. They get out there and get after it.”
Brit Spaugh Zoo in Great Bend was closed Friday after city employees and volunteers cleaned debris. Zoo Director Scott Gregory said there was extensive damage to trees, but the animals were safe and their enclosures were not damaged.
“We lost about four or five trees out here – big cottonwoods,” Gregory said. The zoo reopened Saturday.
The Great Bend City Band performance regularly scheduled for 8:15 p.m. outside at the band shell in the Barton County Courthouse Square began on time inside The Crest Theater on Lakin Ave. This would have been the final outdoor performance, as the band moves inside to escape the heat during July. Thursday night’s show was still well-attended, despite the earlier storm.
Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir said a citizen reported seeing a funnel cloud south of Susank shortly before 5 p.m., but a deputy in the area didn’t see anything. “I was out most of the evening and damage appears to be from straight-line winds,” he said. The heaviest damage he observed was on the north edge of Great Bend and north and east of Great Bend. There were also power poles down between Hoisington and Great Bend.