March did not go out like a lamb.
Instead, the transitional month capped the switch to spring with the worst tornado outbreak in over a decade in the state of Indiana.
A total of 10 tornadoes were recorded on March 31, tying May of 2011 for the fifth-largest tornado outbreak in Indiana history. Four of those tornadoes took place in the territory of Hoosier Energy member cooperatives.
With the weather moving across the state from the southwest to the northeast, Sullivan County took the first, and worst, hit with an EF3 tornado that had wind speeds up to 155 miles per hour and carved a path of 13.15 miles, according to the National Weather Service, with three fatalities.
WIN Energy REMC crews, with the help of Enerstar Electric Cooperative, INTREN, NineStar Connect and Northeastern REMC, restored power for the over 2,700 members who were out on the morning of Saturday, April 1.
Neighboring Utilities District of Western Indiana (UDWI) also restored the power of over 2,000 members despite not taking quite so direct of a hit.
Recovery efforts have been ongoing in Sullivan County, headlined by “Help Sullivan Recover,” a fund launched by the Wabash Community Foundation.
On a more personal level, WIN Energy employee Jim Minks saw his wife, Jodee, lose her preschool in the tornado. WIN is hosting a supply drive for Cross Your Heart Kids Club Academy. Items needed include construction paper, markers, notebooks, crayons, pencil cases, art supplies, scissors, preschool books, pencils and pens, games, puzzles and cards. To contribute, contact Leanna Jones in the WIN Energy office at 1-800-882-5140, ext. 1139.
In addition, Minks’ daughter lost her dance and tumbling studio to the tornado. A GoFundMe has been set up for Studio 3:4.
The storm only slowed a little as it plowed ahead with an EF3 tornado hitting extreme northeast Owen County and extreme northwest Monroe County with winds of 138 miles per hour and a path of 4.01 miles that began in McCormick’s Creek State Park, where two more fatalities occurred.
The next stop was Morgan County as an EF2 tornado with winds of 130 miles per hour and a path of 8.6 miles damaged trees and roofs as well as lifting a pontoon boat across a lake and over a house over a quarter of a mile away.
That all constituted South Central Indiana REMC territory, as over 14,000 outages occurred in 450 locations with 135 poles replaced. SCI got the job done with the aid of of fellow Hoosier Energy cooperatives Clark County REMC, Henry County REMC, Jackson County REMC and Southeastern Indiana REMC as well as the help of Noble REMC, Hendricks Power Cooperative, ElectriCom, Power Source 1, Delta Services and The L.E. Myers Co.
The final blow in Hoosier Energy territory came with a pair of tornadoes in Johnson County. One was an EF0 tornado with winds of 85 miles per hour and a path of 1.93 miles that damaged multiple power lines across State Road 135. The other was an EF3 tornado with winds of 140 miles per hour and a path of 3.54 miles that damaged homes and roofs across Hwy. 31 and a warehouse that was blown onto I-65.
Outages occurred for approximately 8,000 JCREMC members, a number that was reduced to zero over the next three days. That effort included a picture that went viral thanks to a feature by WRTV’s Rafael Sanchez. The photo captures 3-year-old Lance Marker playing with a toy bucket truck while his dad, Jake, works from a real bucket truck in the background to restore power as an apprentice lineman.
With the power restored, JCREMC turned its attention to helping provide local disaster relief as the JCREMC Community Fund Operation Round-Up Advisory Board unanimously voted to provide $10,000 in emergency funding through the Johnson County Community Foundation.
Donations to the American Red Cross and Salvation Army are also welcome in any of the affected communities.