Megan Iturrey bolted out of her home near Lance Creek in Niobrara County and unhooked the family’s year-old black lab, Sammy, right after the high winds broke a large cottonwood tree near Sammy’s doghouse.
Next, she ran back inside the house and hightailed it to her children’s back bedroom with her three little ones.
The winds June 19 were powerful enough to blow the swings straight out parallel to the ground and hold them there. The windows and walls of her home were flexing in and out from the wind.
Megan and her husband Lincoln live outside of Lance Creek a ways down Twenty Mile Road and down another country road.
“I knew something big had hit the yard, just by listening to the sounds. It was either a tree or the play set. I came out after to look. The play set is (explosion noises) all over the yard,” she said.
The play yard was destroyed, but their home was untouched, and everyone was safe.
The National Weather service issued emergency tornado alerts that night in the Lance Creek and Bill communities and surrounding areas.
People were watching social media intently and following live weather feeds as the storms wound up over the two little towns. Phone lines were burning up as folks called their loved ones – if they could get through – to make sure everyone was okay. Some phone lines were down due to the high winds.
The NWS reported Monday that a large supercell formed and moved southeastward across northeastern Converse County. Meteorologist Bill Mokry said wind reports from the Lance Creek area indicated winds reached 60+ mph. Reports of tornado damage in the area are still under review pending additional video and photographic evidence.
There were initial reports of funnel clouds by Wyoming State Highway Patrol in the minutes preceding the tornado’s touchdown near Bill shortly around 7:50 p.m.
“Video confirmation showed a visible condensation funnel making contact with the surface (near Bill). The tornado continued for an estimated 16 minutes, lifting shortly after making contact with an (empty) manufactured home east-southeast of Bill, producing (upon submitted image review) consistent EF0 damage,” Mokry reported. Winds were between 65-85 mph.
No loss of human or animal life was reported, officials said.
Damages were intermittent around Lance Creek, inspection showed. High winds peeled back the tin on the Lance Creek Post Office roof as if a giant hand had reached down opened up a sardine can. A long, red sheet of metal hung down over the building’s side.
Old buildings stood undisturbed right next to the post office and across the street.
Postal clerk and ranch wife Tricia Miller said she wasn’t scared.
“It is what it is. Nobody got hurt. Everything’s replaceable,” she said. Married to rancher Justin Miller, she’s lived near Lance Creek since 2002.
Emergency alerts from the NWS went off on Tricia’s phone at 7:44 p.m.
“All of a sudden (the) phone just started screaming. I was like, ‘I’ve never heard that before. What the heck is wrong with my phone?’”
The warning read: Tornado in your area, seek shelter right now.
Looking out her window she saw the storm rolling in. Fast.
Lance Creek is located 19 miles north of Manville on WYO 270.
Inside the city limits there’s only seven residents, but generations of ranching families live all over the countryside outside of the tiny town.
Everyone was on high alert that night, waiting to see what would happen next.
Tricia said she and her family waited and watched.
Sometime between 8-8:30 p.m., a tree limb as thick as a man’s thigh sliced into Colton Miller’s house in the Lance Creek Oilfield Housing neighborhood.
Colton is Tricia and Justin Miller’s son and is a Wyoming rodeo champion like his father Justin and his uncle Jason Miller. He grew up learning the ropes, literally, on the family land.
“We were sitting up here on the hill kind of watching it. All of a sudden the wind just picked up and I hauled ass in the pickup and came back (home),” he said.
The tree limb didn’t go all the way through the ceiling of the house. It stopped in the attic.
By the next morning, Colton and neighboring families had removed the tree limb from his house and were working on repairing fence blow-downs and other damages related to the tornado within the community.
Several cottonwood trees were down in Colton’s neighborhood, some of the massive trunks dangerously close to landing on houses.
Chris Jensen, owner of Lance Creek Quarter Horses, said the direction of this supercell was odd.
“You know, that’s the funny thing – most tornados come from the southwest and go northeast. This one came from the northwest and went southeast. That’s odd.”
Chris lives just up the street in Lance Creek. He stood in the post office parking lot, talking to Tricia about the storm the night before.
“You know some of the weird things I experienced – I had a round bale of hay, this morning it looks like an upside down funnel. A point at the top and all of the hay is down here (he motions toward the bottom) is in a circular motion,” he said.
Chris’ mysterious happenings didn’t end there.
He said he’d had some feed tubs in his corral. After the storm they were blown into the corner and all stacked up together.
Standing in the sunshine, stark contrast from the wild, dark night before, Chris said he found his horses in a completely different pasture the next morning.
“I had four mares and a colt in the next pasture to the south, not a cut on ‘em. How they got over there without gettin’ cut through a four-wire fence. I’d be surprised if the colt could jump that high. I had an idea, they could’ve gone under at the creek crossing, if they’d gotten down there in the creek, but, I don’t know. I can’t explain any of it,” he mused.
Chris’ family homesteaded in Lance Creek a long time ago. He’s been there for 20 years.
At this point, the NWS is still trying to gather more information on damage from Lance Creek, Mokry said.
“Our only confirmed information is on the Converse side of things over by Bill. We’re still trying to gather more information from Lance Creek. Damage reports are sparse. We probably were dealing with at least two (tornados), if not a few more in association with this,” he said.
May-July are peak months for tornado season, he said, although sometimes events will happen into August.
By last Thursday morning, folks were cleaning up the yard at the Iturrey place.
Megan, pregnant with the couple’s fourth baby, expertly operates the backhoe while her 2-year-old son Lincoln peers out the window, watching visitors walk up their driveway.
Susan McGuire, Megan’s mom, rakes leaves and picks up tree limbs, stacking them in the backhoe’s bucket.
Susan says she’s surprised that the storm took out the grandchildren’s play set.
“It just blasted it, scattered it over there, missed the house, missed the cars and the buildings and didn’t break a window. I was just like, ‘Oh, thank you, Lord!’”
Little blonde-haired Lincoln runs across the yard, stepping in and around tree branches.
When asked how old he is, he smiles and holds both arms high in the air, holding his fingers up on each hand like peace signs, indicating he’s “2.”
He doesn’t know a tornado wiped out his play equipment. All he knows is mom is starting up the backhoe again, and he wants to go for a ride.
Life is already back to near normal in Lance Creek.