Storm lessons learned


It only took a few seconds for three tornadoes to destroy parts of Sioux Falls last month, and recovery has taken quite a bit longer. However, there’s an end in sight for City and Minnehaha County leaders. They’re tallying up the damages, and looking at the final rounds of clean-up. Just like the spring, this round of storms has offered plenty of lessons to learn.

Many people won’t soon forget early September. Heavy rain, high winds, and three tornadoes moved through Sioux Falls, destroying businesses, homes, and leaving broken tree limbs all over.

The storms covered a lot of ground, and they are all laid out on a map emergency manager Regan Smith has with him.

“It’s kind of what I thought it would look like,” Smith said.

If you look at the map, you can see the red lines show each of the tornadoes’ paths.

Smith says the storm damage to the city comes in under $1.5 million.

“There’s still a lot of debris in the parks. So, dealing with that. Some bridge damage on 60th Street North,” Smith said.

Smith says there is ongoing recovery for homeowners, business owners, and public spaces in the city, but says there are several things that went well.

“The three C’s. Coordination, our command system has been in place. Had a lot of experience and operated well. Collaboration, it’s not just the city doing this. There’s residents, volunteers, non-profits, businesses, contractors, the state and county all come together,” Smith said. “And then communications.”

“I think a few things went well. First and foremost, the one thing people talk to me about the most is how the community united around the response,” Mayor Paul TenHaken said.

TenHaken says a majority of clean-up finished in about ten days. More than 700 volunteers pitched in for a combined effort of more than 4,200 hours of service. TenHaken also says the staff with the Emergency Operations Center stepped up.

“I’m not going to micromanage the EOC. I’m not going to micromanage the decisions. I’m going to try to stay involved with them, but I think if you try to stay out of the way of the experts while still leading them, I think it’s a very efficient way of storm clean-up,” TenHaken said.

That’s not to say everything went smoothly. Not all of the outdoor sirens sounded the night of the tornadoes, leaving many people frustrated. TenHaken has previously said human error is why some sirens went off and some didn’t. City leaders have since updated the siren system.

“No longer will you be able to just trigger different zones in the city for those alerts. It’s all of Sioux Falls or nothing,” TenHaken said.

Smith is also looking at what the city could’ve done better.

“We need to build a deeper bench here at the city. We’ve got talented people, we just need to give them experience in times like this,” Smith said.

As for Minnehaha County, emergency manager Jason Gearman says the damage isn’t as bad as it is in Sioux Falls, and it’s not as bad as it was in the spring.

“This round, compared to the spring, was a little different. It came a little quicker, so there was like a week to prepare,” Gearman said.

The county is still tallying totals from this round, while many in the county are still waiting for federal assistance from the last round.

“FEMA is still behind from the first one and with all the disasters going on throughout the country. Patience. They need to use patience and hopefully they’ll get resolved in the end,” Gearman said.

As we move on from this storm, TenHaken says he’s heard more positive response than negative. Moving forward, Gearman, Smith, and TenHaken say the spring and fall storms will be hard to forget. That’s not always a bad thing.

“I’ve learned more in this year than I could’ve in 20 years of doing this job if something like this wouldn’t have happened,” Gearman said.

“People come together. They want to help,” Smith said.

“That’s what I’m most proud of. It brings a lot of joy to my heart is to see how this city works together,” TenHaken said.

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