A quarter-mile-wide tornado touched down west of Wheatland this afternoon, destroying several homes, downing power lines, derailing a train and causing at least one injury, according to the National Weather Service and local emergency officials.
Another tornado was reported to have touched down multiple times in northern Laramie County from a different storm, though no damage was reported as of this evening.
The Platte County tornado touched down about 3:15 p.m. about 8 miles west of Wheatland, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Trudel. The twister headed southeast over Interstate 25. A Weather Service tornado spotter reported that the funnel cloud lifted about 4:15 p.m., Trudel said.
Initial reports show that five houses were destroyed and about a dozen were damaged, said Kelly Ruiz, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security. Roofs were also ripped off of barns and silos, eyewitnesses said.
Platte County Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Becky Kumpf said one person with tornado-related injuries was treated and released about 3:45 p.m.
The twister derailed a train south of Wheatland, according to the Platte County Sheriff’s Office. There were no injuries, and the train cars were empty at the time, according to the sheriff’s office.
Kate Jones, who lives west of Wheatland, was closing her barn door this afternoon when she saw a giant funnel cloud come down from the mountains.
“It started out as a real distinct funnel, and then when it got across the flats it started sucking stuff in from all directions and it got huge,” Jones said.
Jones said it was by far the largest tornado she’s seen in the 20 years she’s lived there.
“We’ve seen some funnel clouds. There’s been hail and wind,” she said. “But this was the first real, ‘Oh my gosh there’s a tornado and there it goes.’”
Jennifer Reyes-Burr and her family own a farm and ranch south of Wheatland.
She said the tornado passed within about 300 yards of her parents' home on the farm/ranch and, while equipment and crops received extensive damage, no one was injured. Reyes-Burr said one water irrigation pivot was destroyed and three were damaged. She also said a feed mill for cattle was totaled and corn, alfalfa and triticale crops were mostly wiped out.
"It's pretty devastating to lose a pivot this year, especially in a drought. But it could have been a lot worse," she said.
Reyes-Burr said the family was working outside when the tornado approached, sending everyone into basements. She went to her parents' basement with her 1-year-old daughter and her father, Juan.
Reyes-Burr said the tornado sounded like a freight train.
Also this afternoon, a funnel cloud from a second storm briefly touched down multiple times near Whitaker, about 20 miles north of Cheyenne along I-25. The storm dropped hail 2 inches in diameter about 18 miles northeast of the capital city, according to The Associated Press.
No damage was reported from that tornado, Ruiz said.