(At Serpent Lake, a few trees and a lot of branches were down along Beach Road. At the Roger Anderson home, a tree hit the corner of the house, but luckily caused no damage).
BAY LAKE—Damage to trees, power lines, vehicles and buildings was evident Monday on a more than 3-mile stretch of Nokay Lake Road, south of Deerwood.
The damage came in the wake of a severe thunderstorm that charged through the Brainerd lakes area Sunday evening. Debris covered the roadway and trees were uprooted and snapped. The smell of freshly cut wood permeated the air as power company workers replaced poles and re-strung lines.
John Bowen, Crow Wing County emergency management director, said he spent most of the day Monday assessing storm damage with National Weather Service staff. They took lots of photos and will require a couple of days to analyze all the data, he said.
Trained spotters recorded funnel clouds in the storm system, Bowen said, but there’s no eyewitness evidence of a tornado. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a tornado, he said, and there was “definitely rotation in the storm.” There were also microbursts present in the system.
Based on damage assessments, the NWS reported wind speeds ranging from 86-110 mph, Bowen said, and possibly isolated pockets with wind speeds more than 110 mph.
The only reported injuries from the storm occurred when two adults and a child were trapped in a mobile home near Nokay Lake Road south of Deerwood, Bowen said. A tree fell on the mobile home, trapping the three people inside. They suffered minor injuries, he said, and were released from the hospital.
“Thank goodness they only had minor injuries,” Bowen said.
Deerwood Fire Chief Mike Bodle, who is out of town but remained in touch with the department throughout its response, said firefighters responded to that call along with numerous reports of trees on power lines. The department cut through trees blocking a driveway Sunday to allow an ambulance to pass through and also responded to a cardiac arrest call because first responders were busy with other calls.
The damaged area starts about a mile west of Nokay Lake Road and moves east across Placid Lake before ending around Highway 6, Bowen said. There was some damage reported at Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge, he said, but most of the damage was to the west. One thing that stuck out while Bowen surveyed the damage was the size of the trees that were split or broken off.
Terry Sluss, external relations assistant director for the Minnesota region of disaster services for the American Red Cross, said Monday afternoon that although the group had mobilized a response vehicle in the storm area, no residents had requested services from them yet.
Residents begin cleanup
On the 18000 block of Nokay Lake Road, the driveway to the home of Jeff and Darla Swanson was impassable in at least three places, blocked by fallen trees. Closest to the road, gigantic white pine trees were torn cleanly from the earth, gaping holes left where their roots once anchored.
“That was my favorite stand of trees right there, it was absolutely gorgeous, those huge white pines,” Darla Swanson said.
She said they were on the road as the storm passed through Sunday evening, hardly able to see as rain and hail pounded. They headed to the Deerwood Fire Department after Jeff Swanson, a Deerwood firefighter, heard numerous calls related to the storm. From there, a trip home that would normally take five minutes took more than a half hour, Darla Swanson said, as they were forced to re-route to Highway 18 to access their home.
“There was debris and trees and live wires on the roads, so they wouldn’t let anyone through,” she said.
Neighbors, co-workers and others quickly jumped to the Swansons’ aid, helping to clear the estimated 30 to 50 trees downed on the family’s property.
“They just showed up with their chainsaws and helped,” Darla Swanson said, becoming emotional as she spoke. “I mean, people from not just the neighborhood here.”
The Swansons remained without power to their home about noon Monday, and were unsure when it could be restored. The pole connecting their home to the power grid was destroyed in the storm, and calls to multiple electricians did not offer any clarity.
“We’ve called every electrician in the area, and they don’t know when they can make it out,” Darla Swanson said.
Meanwhile, the Swansons are powering up a generator on occasion to keep food cool enough in the refrigerator.
A mile north, Jason Erickson was hauling cut logs from one of four downed trees in his yard. Erickson and his family were home during the storm, taking shelter beneath the stairs in the basement. Erickson said they went downstairs after he witnessed the first of the trees fall on a camper in the yard.
The front door of the home blew open, and Erickson said they could hear picture frames rattling on the walls and falling to the ground.
After the storm, Erickson came back upstairs to find the one tree he expected might fall from the wind gusts remained standing: the skeletal remains of a tree killed by a lightning strike three years ago. He said he’d called Minnesota Power just a week earlier because he was concerned the tree might be a threat to nearby power lines.
Massive hail falls
Residents of Nisswa, Pequot Lakes and Breezy Point in northern Crow Wing County experienced what many are saying is some of the largest hail they’ve ever seen.
Meteorologist Linda Ingebretson of NWS in Duluth said a colleague of hers had been working in northern Minnesota for more than 20 years and had never seen hail as big as what fell Sunday. A report of 4-inch hail, roughly the size of a softball, was submitted to NWS from a trained observer near Nisswa.
Bowen echoed those at NWS in stating he’d never seen hail that large.
Pequot Lakes Police Chief Eric Klang said he heard of numerous residents in the Pequot Lakes area whose property sustained damage from the giant hail generated by the storm. A squad car sustained minor hail damage while on Middle Cullen Road, northeast of Nisswa. Klang said a friend of his who lives in that area had damage to the roof of his home and the back window of one of his vehicles was blown out.
Greg Seils, owner of Crow Wing Auto Body in Pequot Lakes, said he completed 35 estimates on hail-damaged vehicles Monday and expects the rest of the week to be even busier as people talk with their insurance companies.
“We’ve never seen it this bad,” Seils said. “We’re just getting started here on them.”
He said he expected to complete in excess of 150 hail claims by the end of the week if the pace keeps up. It isn’t just small dents, either—Seils said they’ve seen numerous broken windshields, back windows and sunroofs along with big dents that could require the replacement of hoods and panels.
Although damage to trees and homes is minimal in comparison to that sustained during last summer’s massive supercell thunderstorm, Seils said he thought vehicle damage would be much greater from this storm due to the size of the hail.
Seils said the business itself also sustained damage, with the metal roofs on pole buildings dented by the hail.
Heavy rain fell along with the hail. The NWS reported .81 inches was recorded at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport within a 1-hour span. Brainerd, however, did not receive the brunt of the storm, with the most intense weather passing just to the north.
Char Kinzer, public relations manager with Crow Wing Power, said not many customers lost power in the wake of Sunday night’s storm. At the peak, there were 18 outages affecting 185 customers, she said. As of 4 p.m. Monday, 57 customers in the Placid Lake area were still without power.
“That was pretty damaged from what I understand,” Kinzer said.
Crow Wing Power hopes to restore power to customers in the Placid Lake area by Monday night, Kinzer said. If the line from a customer’s house to the pole is broken, though, they need to have an electrician fix it before power can be restored.
Kelley Eldien, senior communications specialist with Minnesota Power, said calls from customers about power outages started coming in about 6 p.m. Sunday. Thankfully, the scope of the storm was smaller than the July 2015 supercell thunderstorm, she said.
“I was cringing a little bit last night when I heard there were storms in Brainerd and Nisswa,” Eldien.
The storm affected Minnesota Power’s entire service territory, Eldien said, which stretches from the Iron Range south to Brainerd. Most of the affected customers were in the Crosby and Deerwood area, she said, as well as near Duluth and Cloquet. At the peak, there were 6,600 customers without power throughout the service area. This morning, that number was down to 800 and sat at 350 as of Monday afternoon.
Minnesota Power reported 1,745 customers were without power as of 7 p.m. Sunday night, affecting a large swath of customers in Ironton, Crosby, Trommald, Cuyuna and Deerwood. As of 4 p.m. Monday, there were 36 customers without power near Placid Lake and 66 customers without power in the Oreland area, just south of Deerwood. All customers should have their power restored by Monday night, Eldien said.
“They’ve made good, steady progress over the last 24 hours to restore everybody to power,” Eldien said.