When she was driving home from work a year ago Thursday, Aimee Binning said she noticed a cloud that looked “ominous.”
Albany County’s Emergency Management Agency coordinator, Binning said when an associate called a few minutes later to report a possible tornado over her house, she urged her to take shelter as she rushed back to town to turn the sirens on and issue alerts.
“It was unique though because a lot of times with tornadoes you’ll get hailstorms or something kind of giving you a notification that some severe weather’s coming in,” Binning told the Laramie Boomerang last week. “I don’t recall having any major hail event or rain with that storm.”
At one point, there were reports the town was in the tornado’s potential path, although it never made it. However, Binning said she was a “bit surprised that it was still on the ground” as she arrived back into Laramie.
Albany County saw a total of about four tornadoes June 6, 2018, with the biggest, most visible one near Wyoming Highway 30. It registered as Category 3 and Binning said it lasted a whopping 45 minutes.
That was a particularly long time, she explained, especially from an emergency management perspective. Emergency personnel and damage assessors had to wait until it was safe to get to the area, and she said the wait was “very frustrating.”
One of the most memorable parts, she said, was the number of curious onlookers not heeding the sirens and warnings. Having went to college in Nebraska, she was used to getting to shelter during potential-tornadoes and was “amazed at how many people were out trying to photograph” the tornado from the highway close to the storm.
“When we went out and did damage assessments, almost a half mile away there was debris from where the tornado path was,” she said. “That’s a little concerning, I think people don’t really realize how far the debris can travel outside the tornado itself.”
One house reported major damage. Many ranchers reported dead and injured cattle, as well as damaged fences and grazing areas. Carbon Power and Light also saw damage to power poles that left many without power. Luckily, no injuries or fatalities were reported.
Gerry Claycomb, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, said while tornados are not unheard of in Laramie, the storm last year “made Laramie famous.”
“We don’t get big tornadoes like that usually west of the Laramie range,” Claycomb said. “With the high base of it, it was very visible. … We had calls from the Weather Channel on it and [the British Broadcasting Company.]”
He said he was working the day the tornado touched down, and while the NWS was keeping track of the tornado-friendly conditions, they didn’t see the tornado at first.
“Due to the Laramie Range there, our radar was pretty much blocked from seeing it,” Claycomb said. “We only saw the extreme top of the storm; it was very difficult to warn on it.”
Also cautioning against storm chasing and photographing, Claycomb said tornados often change directions. He recalled a time he worked in Springfield, Missouri, when a tornado near Joplin shifted direction suddenly toward a highway, killing 12 people driving by.
“It’s not good to be really close to those tornadoes,” he said. “Hopefully folks don’t get a false sense of security over there that tornadoes don’t happen.”
Although tornadoes are rare, Laramie is in the midst of its severe thunderstorm season, which runs from May to July. Residents should still be prepared for any kind of severe weather in case of prolonged power outages, damaged dwellings or limited services. Businesses especially, Binning said, should have contingencies in place in case of prolonged closure.
For tornadoes, basements are key, but many in Wyoming are without one. In that case, Binning said the center of a house is best, including a hallway or bathroom. A common backup to the basement is taking shelter in a bathtub with a mattress over top, as plumbing tends to be better rooted to the ground.
“The other thing we’ve been trying to promote, too, is having a buddy system, so who is the neighbor that will check on you?” she said. “Reach out to a neighbor, have a plan in place.”
Those living in mobile homes, Claycomb added, should not stay in the home and should instead seek a storm shelter.