Minnesota’s ‘historic and unreal’ storms leave trail of damage
HARTLAND, MINN. – JR Henderson heard the sirens on Wednesday night. He knew that a windstorm, maybe even a tornado, was heading towards this town about 90 miles south of the Twin Cities.
And just as he opened his front door to check out the sky, he came like a hammer.
“I opened the door and – bang!” the retired electrical lineman said Thursday, standing in a living room littered with broken glass, splinters and pieces of a neighbor’s garage.
Henderson’s wife, Joyce, was forcibly thrown onto the kitchen floor in what National Weather Service investigators confirmed to be a tornado with winds of at least 110 mph.
“And I stayed in bed!” she said, waiting for the storm to pass. It only took a few seconds, the Hendersons said. But the damage to their home will likely take weeks to repair. Windows all along the front of the house were blown out and the couple’s 38-foot mobile home tipped over into the alley behind their home.
A strong line of storms reminiscent of more May than December swept through the state on Wednesday evening, leaving a trail of damage and dropping the first-ever-reported tornadoes in Minnesota in December. Authorities have confirmed one death, a 65-year-old man from Olmsted County who was killed when a tree fell on him.
Four more deaths were reported in the Midwest as the cluster of severe storms swept through the area, with unusually warm weather spawning hurricane-force winds and possible tornadoes in Nebraska and Iowa as well.
Chris Burt, historian for Weather Co., wrote in a Facebook post that extremely high temperatures – reaching 70 degrees in places – and strong winds were “one of the most (if not the most) abnormal weather events on record. for the Upper Midwest. “
In addition to Tornado Hartland, the Weather Service confirmed that a tornado had struck just south of Lewiston in Winona County. Until Wednesday, the last tornado ever seen in Minnesota occurred in Maple Plain on November 16, 1931.
Wednesday’s storms were “historic and unreal,” said Mike Kurz, a meteorologist with the weather service office in La Crosse, Wisconsin. And damaging.
In Hartland, the city’s main thoroughfare, Broadway Street, was littered with shattered glass, bricks and crumpled metal siding blown from buildings. Strong wooden utility poles were smashed and downed power lines snaked around as utility crews worked to restore power. Officials said Hartland was still without power on Thursday night and more than 50 utility poles were broken across the county.
Arcadian Bank and three or four other downtown businesses were directly affected and sustained significant damage, said Rich Hall of Freeborn County Emergency Management.
Hall estimated that 30 to 35 homes in and near the city suffered damage. Other buildings outside the city sustained damage ranging from “slight to major”, he said, but he was not aware of any injuries.
Resident Noah Nielsen saw all the destruction. He had gone out to take pictures of the lightning and had just returned to town when an electrical transformer above him “blew up,” he said. Then, about 50 meters in front of him, bricks began to peel off the buildings and the wind lifted a gazebo and threw it to the side of the bank, he said.
“Closer and I would have been in it,” Nielsen said.
After hitting Hartland around 7 p.m., the storm moved north and east and damaged homes near Lewiston and Plainview, producing gusts of 85 mph. The first reports there indicated that another tornado has touched down. This has not been confirmed, despite information released Wednesday evening, Kurz said. A report of a tornado near Eyota turned out to be strong winds, he said.
The confirmed Lewiston tornado near County Road 25 south of town damaged a garage, barn and grain elevators just after 8 p.m., said Ben Klinger of Winona County Emergency Management.
“It was weird all day yesterday,” Klinger said.
In Rochester, the fire department responded to 35 calls that included multiple small fires, gas leaks, downed power lines and other hazards caused by fallen trees. A 65-year-old man from Haverhill Township has died after a 40-foot tree fell on him while he was smoking outside.
There were more than 20 reports of tornadoes on Wednesday in the Plains States, scattered mainly in eastern Nebraska and Iowa, based on preliminary reports from the Storm Prediction Center. The governors of Kansas and Iowa have declared a state of emergency.
The unusual weather in Minnesota pushed the mercury in the Twin Cities to an all-time high of 58 degrees, before plunging more than 30 degrees in the evening. The heat combined with the rain melted most of the snowpack in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport of which only a trace remained.
The winds blew a tractor-trailer off the highway. 15 in Nicollet County and overturned another on I-90 in Winona County, knocking down trees and power lines over much of the southern part of the state.
The trees had fallen and there was “a lot of structural damage” to barns, homes and businesses near LeRoy and Grand Meadow, Mower County Emergency Manager Amy Lammey said. The county was still receiving reports by mid-morning, she said.
In the north, residents faced more typical weather conditions for this time of year. Several areas in northern Minnesota received 1 to 3 inches of snow overnight, the weather service said.
Back in Hartland, some residents were still trying to process Wednesday’s events.
“Yesterday was probably the best day we’ve had in a long time,” said Alex Dahlen. “And all of a sudden it’s the worst day of the year.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.