Summer came in like a lion this year, bringing a storm on its first day that damaged a church and homes in Noble County and left thousands without power. No injuries were reported, although there were some close calls.
The steeple of the LaOtto Wesleyan Church was toppled by high winds Wednesday, which also brought a tree down on occupied homes at Bear Lake, on the other end of the county. The most serious damage was in southern Noble County, although power outages were scattered across the area and tens of thousands were reportedly without electricity throughout Indiana.
There were unconfirmed funnel cloud sightings in Allen and Dekalb counties, and reports of tornado touchdowns in Mercer County, Ohio, and Illinois.
After the National Weather Service placed northern Indiana under a tornado watch Wednesday, a series of thunderstorms came through the area. A thunderstorm warning was issued at about 6:30 p.m., but the only problem reported from that round was a utility pole struck by lightning in Green Township. However, starting about two hours later a much more powerful storm brought lightning, hail, high winds and heavy rain, generating another thunderstorm warning. Several local fire departments went out on weather watch at that time.
Pea sized hail, high winds and heavy rain near Rome City were the first weather reports received by the Noble County Sheriff’s Department, at 8:36 p.m.
At 8:53 p.m. a Noble Township firefighter reported a tree had fallen on his home, along First Street at Bear Lake. Three people were in the house at the time, and reportedly barely escaped injury when the downed tree caused heavy damage to the building.
It was the first of a string of reports of damage in the Bear Lake area, so many that Thorn Creek fire units were called in from Whitley County to assist Noble Township firefighters in answering calls. The American Red Cross and Noble County EMS also responded to assist.
Another home was damaged by a fallen tree on Sixth Street. Rescue workers checked it at 9:23 p.m., but the occupants reported found shelter in another home and were being assisted by the Red Cross.
A utility pole caught fire along Fifth Street at Bear Lake, bringing firefighters and Noble REMC linemen to the scene. Utility workers were kept busy with downed lines across the region, and the storm knocked out REMC substations at Brimfield, LaOtto, and Summit Lake. At one point over 30,000 REMC customers statewide were reportedly without power, around 1,700 of them in Noble County. Local power supplies were reportedly back up by 6 a.m., but some areas of Allen County reportedly didn’t have electricity back until late Friday.
Noble County and State Highway workers were also called out to clear trees and open roadways back up. In addition, INDOT workers had to set up stop signs where power outages had darkened stop lights, including the east junction of US 6 and SR 9, and SR 3 at both SR8 and SR 205.
As the storm continued to move east, it hit the LaOtto area hard. The worst damage was at the LaOtto Wesleyan Church, were the steeple landed on the ground beside the building. LaOtto firefighters responded to several reports of trees, large limbs, and power lines down, and stayed out until early Thursday, while the entire town remained blacked out.
Some other reports of trees across roadways were from Avilla’s Chiswell Run; CR 1200N, near South Milford; the 300E block of CR 400E in Green Township; 1000W near Wilmot; the Kosciusko County line near CR 125S; SR 8 near CR 750E.
The storm systems generated watches and warning across the Midwest. Other Indiana counties that reported damage include Adams, Allen, Blackford, Grant, Huntington, Jay, Wabash, and Wells. Part of the roof of Grant County’s courthouse was blown off.