The Spencer Tornado

Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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May used to be my favorite month of the year but after having a fourth straight golf outing called off because of weather..either too cold, too wet, too windy or a combination of all three, I’ve about given up on it.
As I was sitting here feeling sorry for myself, I got to thinking about a weather related event I got to see first hand during the month of May ten years ago. Suddenly memories came rushing back about the little town 45 miles west of Sioux Falls that was pretty much erased from existence by a giant tornado.
320 people lived in the farming community of Spencer, South Dakota in 1998. Like most little towns, Main street businesses weren’t as plentiful or profitable as they once were. Still, folks took pride in their houses and yards. The abundant trees provided shade from the hot summer sun and plenty of leaves to rake in the fall. The grain elevator was doing okay and so was the Lutheran church.
But then at around 8:30 in the evening of May 30th, an F-4 tornado packing winds up to 260 miles an hour swept down from the evil dark clouds and began churning a path of destruction with little Spencer, South Dakota right in its sights.
Within six minutes the beast had roared through town leaving in its wake, six people dead and a third of the residents with varying degrees of injuries. Most of Spencer’s 190 buildings had been obliterated.
The next day, I went along with a crew from Keloland to help document the mind boggling devastation.
This is what we saw:Perhaps everyone’s most memorable image from Spencer; the twisted water towerAs I walked along the street I picked up a picture of a little girl..her school photo no doubt. I wonder if she was the grandchild of one of the victims.A lifetime of work and memories, gone in six minutes.The elevator took a big hitI walked by a house with just a couple walls standing. There was a beeping sound coming from the rubble. It was the smoke detector still blurting out it’s warning. A clock on another wall was still hanging and still running.There were a few places still standing but most were too far gone to be salvaged and were torn downResidents walk the streets in stunned silence wondering what lies aheadIt’s estimated that the Spencer tornado caused 18 million dollars damage.Thanks to an incredible outpouring of support from Keloland viewers, a telethon for the victims raised over a million dollars to help ease the sting. In the past ten years, several people have been able to rebuild in Spencer..even plant new trees, yards and gardens. But anyone who survived that awful storm can’t help but get a bit nervous whenever storm clouds form in the west.AUTHORS NOTE: The Spencer Tornado 10th anniversary special that was postponed because of storm coverage Thursday, has been rescheduled for Inside Keloland Sunday night at 10:30 Central time.

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