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North Dakota Tourism

Bowman County Courthouse
104 1st St NW
Bowman, ND 58623

Downburst gusts cause significant damage across Bowman County

July 28, 2017

Winds at the Brooks Chalky Butte Ranch tipped a camper into a pickup truck during the July 20 storm. Damage could be seen throughout the county north of Bowman and Scranton.
(Pioneer Staff Photo)

By Cole Benz
Pioneer Editor

“This one was exceptionally intense in some regards,” said National Weather Service (NWS) Meteorologist Chauncy Schultz. “We had, certainly, wind speeds that were reported over 70 miles an hour.”

According to reports received by the NWS in Bismarck, the most damaging pathway was roughly 10-15 miles north of the cities of Bowman and Scranton.

“The reports that we’ve received suggest that a lot of that damage, the worst of it, is kind of in that Scranton region, [and] that general area just north of Bowman,” Schultz said. “That seems to be the heart of the damage from there over towards Scranton.”

Eye witness accounts also support those reports.

Katie Dilse, whose family farm is just north of Scranton about 10 miles, said that she saw it coming from the west, and initially thought it was a ground fire. She speculated that it was the wind hitting the dirt on the ground. Her speculation was confirmed when Schultz said that the high winds were caused by downburst gusts, which sends air down to the surface at a fast rate and spills outward when it hits the ground.

Dilse said that visibility during the most intense part of the storm was only about 10 feet on their property.
Among the most obvious damage on the Dilse property was to some of their empty grain bins. The force of the wind crumpled the bins like you’d crush a soda can after you’ve taken that last swig. The unfortunate part is that the damage would have prevented had the bins been full of grain.

“The reason they’re empty is because our crop got hailed out last year,” she said. “We had one neighbor pull up and said ‘just when you can’t think it can’t get any worse, it gets worse.’”

The wind was so intense at their property, that not only did the bins get crushed, but the power of the gusts actually broke the anchor bolts and lifted the bins off the concrete foundation.

The power also moved some of their machinery, and forced a storage trailer about 100 feet away from where it was originally parked.

“That’s when I knew it was bad,” she said. “That’s when we really got scared and we went downstairs and called the neighbors to tell them to get in their basement.”

Another farmer and property owner northwest of the Dilse farm told the Pioneer that this was the worst wind he had ever seen.

These downburst wind gusts are caused when the precipitation falls from them, and the conditions are right, bringing down a lot of cold air. Cold air sinks faster and is more dense, so as Schultz put it, “goes splat” and shoots outward after it hits the surface.

“With these damaging downburst winds, once they start pushing out from a thunderstorm they will accelerate further,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with sort of exactly where the storm tracks, and exactly where that first downburst of wind occurs once it starts going.”

And this particular set of systems that hit Bowman County was particularly conducive to sustaining these gusts.

“When we get these really highly organized thunderstorms…it sort of can feedback on itself where you’ve got consistent updrafts,” he said. “We get a longer, more extensive swath of damage.”

Schultz said the dry conditions and high temps was probably what created this system.

Reports from around Bowman County had up to an inch of rain fall during the storm.

Winds caused heavy, and large equipment to be tipped throughout the region.
(Pioneer Photos by Cole Benz)

Grain bins were ripped off their concrete foundations by the high winds north of Scranton.