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System spawns tornadoes, moisture, winds strong enough to push rail cars

6/12/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Mother Nature roared her mightiest overnight, dropping tornadoes, a month's worth of rainfall in some spots and winds strong enough to make a hurricane proud.

The wind in La Crosse was strong enough to push a string of as many as 15 idle railcars on a siding back into town, toppling three, one of which hit the corner of Enslinger Lumber.

The rains, meanwhile, were heavy enough in Ellis for a car that got a little too close to the river's edge to lose its traction and slip into Big Creek, prompting the fire department to rescue its occupants.

At least two tornadoes were reported in Kansas, the first in Greeley County while the second -- and perhaps most damaging -- was reported in southern Logan County.

There, according to Logan County Emergency Management Director George "Pappy" Lies, an apparent tornado caused extensive damage to a barn and a shed, all of which caused extensive damage to the farmhouse.

"The south side had holes in it," Lies said, "where 2-by-4s and flying debris were driven though the wall."

Lies said he spoke to the occupants of the residence Wednesday night.

Lies said they were unharmed and were going to spend the night with relatives nearby.

"They were without power last night," he said, noting a number of power poles were downed by the strong winds.

The strong winds and tornadoes all apparently were wrapped in a system stretching perhaps 30 miles in length that had its genesis in Greeley County and marched east.

The southern Logan County tornado was a part of that system, as was a trained spotter's report of 91 mph winds southwest of Ness City.

The Ness County Sheriff's office, however, hadn't received any damage reports as of this morning.

Lies said there were multiple reports of heavy rain in southern Logan County, but in Oakley, the rainfall was 0.06 of an inch.

"Down in that area, they had some very, very heavy rains and lots of wind," he said.

Lies said he took up a position several miles north of the Smoky Hill River of U.S. Highway 83, but at times the visibility was only 30 yards.

Ironically, when he was in the Winona area, visibility was limited to approximately a half-mile.

"Even with the rain we've gotten, there was blowing dust," he said. "It was not a pretty night."

Jim Fisher, Rush County's emergency management director, likely wouldn't disagree.

"We had 80 mph winds come through La Crosse," he said this morning.

The winds were strong enough to push an empty set of box cars on a rail siding backwards, ultimately knocking three cars from the tracks.

One of the cars hit the rear corner of Enslinger Lumber on the city's Main Street. It's unclear how much damage the rail car caused.

"Lots of tree limbs down," he said, and a building in the county had its roof blown off.

But the wind was confined to the La Crosse area.

"I live in Bison, and we never got the wind," Fisher said. Bison is only 7 miles from La Crosse.

While Ellis County sent storm spotters into the field, the biggest worry turned out to be heavy rain.

Anywhere from 4 to 5 inches of rain was reported in the Ellis area, including a 4.75-inch report a scant 2 miles west of the city.

The rain was enough to turn the road leading to the city's campground into a slick nightmare, at least for one vehicle that drove by hoping to see how much water was flowing over the dam.

As they approached the area, according to Bill Ring, Ellis County's emergency management director, the car apparently started sliding and eventually fell into the creek on the downstream side of the dam.

Emergency crews soon were called to help extricate the occupants.

"They got them out safely," Ring said.

No damage reports had been filed as of this morning, he said, although there have been numerous reports of water over county roads.

So he urged caution.

"You don't need to be out there driving," he said about simply driving around to look at the water. "Don't drive into standing water."