EF-1 tornado had winds up to 105 mph
They swore it was a tornado. It turns out, they were right.
On Sunday, the National Weather Service confirmed what many Farmington residents suspected all along: a tornado, not straight-line winds, caused severe damage to the central part of the community during an Aug. 13 storm.
The tornado created a 1 1/2-mile path that was about 250 yards wide, from the neighborhood near the intersection of Exceptional Trail and Ewing Street northeast to the intersection of Dunbury Avenue and Dupont Way.
At first, the National Weather Service said damage was caused by straight-line winds. Residents cleaning up their yards the next day, however, swore they heard the freight-train rumbling often associated with tornados. Pointing to the twisted tree tops left behind and the homes missing roofs and the sides of garages, residents were convinced no ordinary winds could do that much damage.
National Weather Service meteorologist Lisa Schmidt said the residents' assessments were pretty accurate.
The National Weather Service did not send out an assessment crew until Sunday afternoon. That's not uncommon, Schmidt said, because there is preliminary work that has to be done before crews view the actual damaged area.
"We basically have to take time to gather all of the data," Schmidt said. "We also get pictures and phone calls from the spotters out in the field or the public sends out information. We want to make sure to get all that. It's pretty hard to narrow down the area where we need to go, so we want to make sure to have everything organized first."
The National Weather Service classified Farmington's tornado as an EF-1, with wind speeds estimated at 85 to 105 miles per hour. The highest tornado rating, an EF-5, is "the most intense," Schmidt said.
When the National Weather Service crew came to town, much of the initial damage was already cleaned up. Trees had been pulled from the streets and most of the homes that received damage had been boarded up already. Still, the crews found several homes with significant damages to roofs and garages.
Farmington building inspector Ken Lewis had a long weekend following Friday's tornado. He spent most of the day Friday and a good chunk the weekend inspecting homes along the tornado's path. By Monday, he had looked at between 300 and 400 homes.
Lewis said about 124 homes received some kind of damage. He has issued 13 condemnation notices for homes that are currently unhabitable.
"That means they have limited access until the repairs are made," Lewis said. "They can go in, they can get their belongings, they just can't live there. It's not to the point where the house is going to fall down on them, but there's enough damage to where the ceiling could fall in.
"There are no homes that had to be demolished and rebuilt," he added. "There are some garages that will have to be, but the homes themselves are all repairable."
Contractors and insurance agents have been out in full force since the tornado came through. By Monday, many of the contractors were pulling the permits necessary to get started with the repairs.
But what struck Lewis over his three days of foot patrol through the damaged neighborhoods was positive attitude he encountered. Residents cooperated with Lewis while he did his inspections, and he was impressed by their willingness to help one another.
"They were fantastic. They were out there, helping each other, neighbor helping neighbor, friend helping friend," Lewis sad. "It was good. It was a good deal."
The tornado damage opens a new can of worms for some homeowners, though -- the possibility, particularly for the homes that are currently vacated, of vandals or burglars entering the homes.
Though there have been added patrols in those neighborhoods, Farmington police administrative sergeant Jim Constantineau urged neighbors to keep an eye out for suspicious activity, especially if they see someone creeping around the vacated houses. Neighbors who spot something or someone that seems out of place, should call 911 and report it immediately.
"We are paying extra attention to those areas, but we're also counting on the residents who were fortunate enough to stay in their homes," Constantineau said.
'A busy, busy
According to Constantineau, alarms started to sound from Akin Road Elementary School at 3:14 a.m. The first 911 call reporting damage was recorded by the Dakota Communications Center at 3:34 a.m., and subsequent calls followed at a rapid pace. At one point, he said, there were as many as 22 calls coming in at once.
"It was a busy, busy morning," Constantineau said.