Pictured above: Tom Smith stands with fiancée Ally Capps Tuesday
morning as the couple surveys the damage caused by a small tornado
that hit Capps’ property south of Terry Friday at about 8:30 p.m.
By Kay Braddock
It lasted about 30 seconds. Its path size was a little more than a high school football field – 500-feet-by-200-feet. And according to eyewitness Tom Smith, its force was something to behold.
“It was terrifying,” Smith said of the small tornado that hit his fiancée Ally Capps’ property 8 miles south of Terry.
“I happened to look up out the window,” Smith recounted. “Right when the funnel started.”
Describing the funnel as 50-feet in diameter and moving about 100 yards from the north side of the house, Smith said he watched from the living room as the tornado’s pressure shoved the couple’s horse trailer 20 feet.
“It wasn’t like it was just kind of dragging,” Smith explained. “It was like somebody just gave it a big huge push and pushed it.”
Friday night’s small tornado, classified as an EF1 tornado by the National Weather Service in Glasgow, is the first to hit Montana this year, according to NWS Science Officer Bill Martin.
EF1 tornados range in wind speeds of 86 to 110 mph. The EF1 classification is the second lowest in the six-level Fujita Tornado Scale. Martin estimated Friday evening’s tornado included winds of up to 90 mph. Typical damages caused by an EF1 tornado include snapped trees and blown out walls.
From the time it took Smith to run from the living room to the front door to retrieve one of the couple’s dogs, the tornado was gone. Its winds leveled two small barns, snapped a large tree in two and uprooted a row of outlying trees. Front doors on a large shop collapsed from the wind’s suction and paneling on the west side was pulled off from the building. Beams along the shop’s ceiling were also stretched.
“It was like two air masses hit at one time and sparked a funnel, right here in the middle of the property,” Smith said. “It was devastating.”
As the couple walked across the yard shortly after the tornado hit, surveying the damage done, they saw their little barn, a 22-by-12 foot structure lying in rubles. To the west, the top half of a 20-by-20-foot newly refurbished barn had been thrown off its foundation 150 feet.
“It was just shocking,” Smith said. “We didn’t see it get lifted - thank God. It would’ve terrified us.”
But just 20 feet away from the tornado’s destructive path, a neighboring long barn, housing two mares and two foals, stood unscathed.
It was one of several blessings the couple were counting since the small tornado hit. Living alone on the property, they were both inside the house Friday evening. The house, about 100 yards away, also stood untouched. Besides a small cut sustained by a foal, no animals were hurt. Other buildings on the property, including a garage and tack room also stood untouched.
Martin and NWS Meteorologist Ben Moyer traveled to Terry Sunday morning to survey the destruction.
“From the way the damage was moved around by the storm, we were able to conclude that it was in fact a tornado,” Martin said. “In this case we had trees falling one way and other objects falling another way, which suggests swirling winds.”
Reviewing NWS radar data in Glasgow did little in helping to determine whether a tornado had actually struck, due to its long distance from Terry. Seeing the storm’s damaging effects along with Smith’s eyewitness account, contributed to the EF1 classification.
“It was small in size and it didn’t last very long,” Martin said. “But it did a fairly intense amount of damage for such a small tornado.”