Little Sioux Tornado Anniversary

Little Sioux Tornado Anniversary:
Boy Scout Remembers Deadly Iowa Tornado

By Rebecca (Becky) Griffis
Forecaster, NWS Omaha/Valley, NE

The evening of June 11, 2008, was a tragic night in the history of the Boy Scouts of America.   On that night in northeast Iowa, the Little Sioux Boy Scout Camp was struck by a killer tornado.  Four scouts died, and dozens of others were injured.  The event caught the attention of the national media spotlight. 

Xavier Olivo survived a June 2008 deadly tornado while attending a Boy Scout leadership camp in Iowa. He recently visited the NWS office in Valley, NE, and told his story. (Photo, Lisa Petry)

Xavier Olivo, now 14, was there attending the Boy Scout leadership camp when lightning started in the distance and a few drops of rain started falling.  Olivo's class was playing cards under an awning at the north shelter of the camp.  He remembers there were many different classes going on at that time, and one group was even hiking in the woods.

While the scouts were playing cards, the leader of his group told them to be very quiet.  Once it was silent, they heard the sound of faint sirens in the distance.  Scout leaders at the camp had a NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards and received the warning in time to activate their own outdoor warning siren with a few minutes of lead time.  The scout leader then told them all to get inside the shelter and take cover under the tables.  Olivo was under the tables that were furthest from the fireplace and chimney that later collapsed, killing the four scouts in the debris.

"I remember looking out the windows and seeing the trees beginning to bend and leaves being ripped off the trees," said Olivo.  After that, he blacked out, but was later told what happened next.  Another scout grabbed Olivo's leg as Olivo became airborne.  This Boy Scout hung onto Olivo's leg and the leg of the table as the entire shelter was being destroyed, as it took a direct hit from the tornado.  Eventually, the force was too strong, and Olivo landed about 50 yards from the shelter.  His scalp was torn back, and he sustained a broken clavicle.

Olivo regained consciousness a few minutes later to find another scout already applying pressure to his scalp.  Olivo was the first of the 42 injured taken by ambulance.  Paramedics wrapped his head in the ambulance as they transported him to the hospital in Blair, NE, where he was hospitalized for three days.

After reading a newspaper story about Olivo, the NWS office in Valley, NE, decided to invite Olivo and his mother Lisa to tour the office. 

Olivo has taken a keen interest in meteorology since the night of the tornado.  Whenever he enters a new environment, he looks around to find a good place to seek shelter from a tornado, though he says he would rather be outside observing the event or inside tracking it on radar. 

"My ideal home would have a tornado shelter with computer equipment so I could watch the radar," said Olivo.

Little Sioux Tornado Anniversary:
Boy Scout Remembers Deadly Iowa Tornado

Jim Meyer and Brian Smith present Dr. Crabb and
Nathan Dean with Severe Weather Preparedness Hero Awards.

A grand reopening ceremony for the Little Sioux Scout Ranch was held on May 2, featuring NWS Central Region’s Deputy Director John Ogren, Weather Forecast Office (WFO) Omaha/Valley’s Meteorologist in Charge Jim Meyer, and Warning Coordination Meteorologist Brian Smith.  Meyer and Smith presented Severe Weather Preparedness Hero Awards to the Ranch medical doctor, Dr. Crabb, M.D., and camp ranger Nathan Dean.  The scout ranch was also recognized by WFO Omaha/Valley as a StormReady Supporter.

Both Dr. Crabb and Dean were warned of the 2008 Iowa tornadoes by NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards.  Dean was at home with his wife and three children when the tornado destroyed their entire house.  They managed to stay safe in an interior closet.

Before escaping to the closet, however, Dean contacted Dr. Crabb and together they decided to sound the camp’s siren.  The ranch sustained major damage.

Fast forward one year to the grand reopening.  Now you see a new welcome center built from reinforced concrete serving as a storm shelter at the entrance of the camp.  The shelter is designed to withstand 250 mph winds and missile projectiles up to 125 mph.  Four other weather-proof shelters will be constructed at locations scattered around the camp.  A communications system will be put in place to connect all the camp structures with a camp command center tied in to NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, and a siren system that can be activated from the local county dispatch center or the camp itself.

Little Sioux Ranch welcome center.

There are plans for a memorial to be built on the concrete slab of what remains of the north shelter. An open aired chapel is intended for construction in September. The altar of the chapel will be built around the remains of the chimney that collapsed, killing four scouts.  Volunteers from the September 11 New York Fire Department will be working on the project as part of a “Pay it Forward” program which has helped rebuild portions of Greensburg, KS, after a direct hit in 2007 from an EF 5 tornado.

Though this severe weather event dealt with loss and damage, it is also a success story.  This is due to the decisive actions of the Boy Scouts before the tornado, their heroic actions during the storm, and the latest state-of-the-art StormReady activities taken by the Boy Scouts following the tragic night of June 11, 2008.

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