COLUMBIA CITY — Trees uprooted, large branches on houses, limbs on cars — just one more anomaly in 2020.
Bonnie Platz watched as her large maple tree peeled off the ground — roots, dirt and all, as whipping winds tore through the county on June 10.
“It was kind of like slow motion — it tipped up and went to the ground,” Platz said.
The large tree didn’t cause any major damage, but Platz did have branches down in her back yard.
“I’ve lived her for 27 years,” Platz said of her home on Main Street in Columbia City. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Platz said she thought the storm appeared to have a wind shear, similar to the storm that toppled the stage at the Indiana State Fair years ago.
Platz had several plants planted under the tree that were unharmed, but likely won’t survive now.
“So much for a shade garden,” she said.
Just two days earlier, Platz had a conversation with her friend that she won’t be able to have again.
“I told a friend of mine that I have the tallest tree on Main Street … the prettiest tree — and now, it’s no more,” Platz said.
“This tree was beautiful,” said Stephanie Edsall, pictured at left, neighbor of the owner, Bonnie Platz, at right, of the large maple tree that peeled off the ground during Wednesday’s storm.
The storm caused several downed power lines and other large trees were destroyed, such as two at the “top of the hill” at the Whitley County 4-H Fairgrounds.
Storms packing winds up to 90 mph rolled through northeast Indiana, toppling trees and tossing semi-tractor-trailer rigs like Matchbox toys.
At about 2 p.m. scanner reports came in of tornadoes in LaGrange County, including in an area near C.R. 475E at S.R. 120, close to Brighton, but those were not confirmed by the National Weather Service.
The weather service said a few reports of large hail were received, with one report of 2-inch hail near Bryan, Ohio, but the wind proved the most dangerous element.
Allen County and Whitley County reports came in of 60- to 62-mph winds with a tree onto a roof in New Haven and 1.5-inch hail. Williams, Ohio, reported 2-inch hail. Churubusco had reports of several barns down.
Indiana Michigan Power reported that winds knocked down trees, utility poles and power lines, and disrupted energy service to more than 18,000 customers.
The largest outages were reported in eastern Fort Wayne and the New Haven area; north and northwest of Fort Wayne the city around Churubusco, Ligonier, and Butler; and on the west side of Marion, according to a news release.
Very intense straight-line winds are responsible for much of the damage from a first line of storms that ripped through northeast Indiana, from Whitley County and well into Michigan. At about 6 p.m. June 10 the storm had been expected to travel with similar intensity into Canada, said Todd Holsten, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service Northern Indiana.
Little was left untouched in the eastern half of LaGrange, which appears to have taken the brunt of the storm.
“There was high intensity, straight-line wind up there,” Holsten said. “The damage was widespread, extensive.”
The storm tossed cars off the Indiana Toll Road, ripped roofs off of houses and barns, ripped up any vegetation it hit and will leave a mess to cleanup for quite some time, Holsten said.
The storm forced the closing of U.S. 20 near C.R. 200E in LaGrange County after two semis were blown over, their drivers said.
Two semis, one eastbound and the other westbound, had stopped for the oncoming storm due to its intensity. The westbound truck was flipped into the ditch on the north side of the road while the eastbound rig was blown sideways into the highway then flipped on its side, blocking highway.
The westbound driver, an unnamed Ukrainian man, said he’d never seen anything like this storm.
There also was a report of a westbound semi getting blown off the Indiana Toll Road and into the north ditch of the highway near mile marker 128, which is about two miles east of the Ernie Pyle Travel Plaza.
“The storm occurred as I&M crews were working to complete restoration of the last customers in the South Bend area and southwest Michigan, where about 16,000 customers lost power during storms Tuesday evening and overnight,” the release said. “A few hundred additional customers in the South Bend area were affected by this afternoon’s storms.”
I&M was moving at least 50 additional workers and contractors from those areas to help restore power in the Fort Wayne area.
By midmorning June 11, I&M reported that power had been restored power to nearly two-thirds of the more than 32,000 customers affected by three separate storms over a 24-hour period June 9-10. This includes restoration for more than 8,000 customers who lost service June 10’s heavy windstorm that broke or damaged more than 50 poles.
Severe thunderstorm warnings were issued for much of the area, but particularly LaGrange and Steuben counties.
“There was a large wind field there, with wind up to 90 mph,” Holsten said. The wind field reached up to about 600-700 feet into the air but was strong enough, he said, to bring the high wind speeds to ground level.
At one point, there it was difficult traveling anywhere in the east half of LaGrange County because of downed tree debris. One sheriff’s deputy said most of the east side of the county was impassable.
Much of the early damage appeared to hit in LaGrange, with high winds and large hail. There was also significant damage in Steuben County and Whitley County, officials said.
A second warning for Steuben County was calling for wind gusts of up to 70 mph.
In Angola, power was out on the north end of town, forcing police officers to direct traffic at the major lighted intersections. The officers were out directing traffic in the height of the storm in a driving rain.
Trees were downed on S.R. 727 — the state highway that carries Pokagon State Park’s traffic — just west of the Pokagon gatehouse, blocking traffic for a short time.
Power outages were widespread throughout northeast Indiana. Between Northern Indiana Public Service Co. and Steuben County REMC, there were a combined 4,630 customers without power. Steuben REMC reported 2,788 customers without power, which represents about 29% of its service area.
Other significant outages were experienced in LaGrange (1,625), Rome City (1,068), Wolcottville (550), Howe (275) and Brimfield (227), all of which were reported by NIPSCO.
Randy Brown, emergency management director for Steuben County, said there were numerous trees downed, as well as power lines throughout the county, but mainly on the west side.
A pontoon boat on a lift was flipped over, including the lift, landing on its top in the lake, Brown said.
Indiana Michigan Power reported an outage affecting 736 customers in and around Butler.
Mike Marturello, Patrick Redmond, Jeff Jones and Lisa Esquivel Long contributed to this report.