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'Rare and extreme severe weather event' causes extensive damage across west central Minnesota

Storms that swept across South Dakota and western and central Minnesota on Thursday night brought damaging winds that downed trees and power lines and destroyed buildings.

Lightning strikes illuminate the sky over the Middle Fork Crow River near Spicer the evening of Thursday, May 12, 2022. The storm brought down trees and infrastructure, causing multi-hour power outages in the area.
Lightning strikes illuminate the sky over the Middle Fork Crow River near Spicer the evening of Thursday, May 12, 2022. The storm brought down trees and infrastructure, causing multi-hour power outages in the area.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — What the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities termed a “rare and extreme severe weather event” caused extensive damage throughout western and west central Minnesota on Thursday evening, May 12, 2022. The winds downed power lines, and damaged buildings and farm equipment in a wide area from eastern South Dakota into Meeker County in central Minnesota.

Lac qui Parle County

Lac qui Parle County in far western Minnesota suffered widespread damage as winds topping 70 miles an hour whipped over the prairie. A wind gust of 94 miles per hour was recorded at the Madison Airport, according to the National Weather Service.

Blain Johnson, emergency manager for Lac qui Parle County, estimates that 80 percent of the county experienced minor or greater levels of damage.

No community escaped harm, but the city of Madison seems to have been hit the hardest.

There were a number of reports of funnel clouds. The National Weather Service was to survey the county to determine if there were any touchdowns. Most of the damage appears to be from straight-line winds.

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The emergency manager reported a wide path of damage to houses, sheds and equipment on rural farmsteads in a path running from north of Madison toward Appleton.

The storms knocked out power throughout the county, and efforts were still underway Friday to restore power in a number of communities.

Sheriff Allen Anderson said Otter Tail Power estimates that it will take three days to fully restore power to all of those affected in its service area.

Winds knocked over grain bins at the Bellingham Elevator.

The county opened an emergency operations center after the storm. The County Board of Commissioners is holding an emergency meeting Sunday to seek a disaster declaration.

The winds also caused considerable damage in western Chippewa County. The straight-line winds blew over a camper at the Lac qui Parle State Park and caused damage to buildings at the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Headquarters.

The winds caused damage in the Canby area of western Yellow Medicine County, as well as other locations scattered about the county. Yellow Medicine County Sheriff Bill Flaten said restoring power and downed lines had been the focus of much of the recovery work on Friday.

John Zvorak of Otter Tail Power Company removes branches from power lines in Murdock the morning of Friday, May 13, 2022.
John Zvorak of Otter Tail Power Company removes branches from power lines in Murdock the morning of Friday, May 13, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

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Swift County

Rural Swift County experienced widespread damage, with some of the worst damage in the Murdock area.

The wind storm brought widespread damage to the city of Benson, ripping shingles from roofs, tearing most of the roof off a house on Hall Avenue, and toppling trees throughout the community. Police Chief Ian Hodge estimates that about half of the taller pine trees in the community were destroyed.

The Benson Fire Department contained a fire that erupted when a gas line apparently broke at the Case IH facility along U.S. Highway 12.

The storm’s fury was felt most on the city’s west side. The winds tore the roof off the old elevator over the seed storage area.

The storm knocked out power as trees fell on lines.

Benson Municipal Utilities fired up its backup generators around 8 p.m. Thursday and ran them until around 10 p.m. to provide emergency power after the city lost its outside power.

Metal roofing hangs on power lines in downtown Kerkhoven the morning of Friday, May 13, 2022.
Metal roofing hangs on power lines in downtown Kerkhoven the morning of Friday, May 13, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Power outages

The storms left thousands of people throughout the region without power as winds knocked down power lines or dropped trees on them. Hardest hit were areas in the western portion of the state.

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Agralite Cooperative, headquartered in Benson, reported extensive damages and outages throughout its entire system. Damages to the system included trees blown down on power lines, wind-snapped utility poles, and wind driven debris striking electric lines.

Agralite Cooperative crews were continuing to restore power in rural areas of Swift County on Friday. At mid-afternoon, the cooperative estimated that 65 percent of its customers were without power and it was unsure when power would be fully restored.

More than 2,300 Xcel Energy customers in the New London area were without power Thursday night and Friday, as crews worked to restore downed lines and poles.

Kandiyohi Power Cooperative, Willmar, was hoping to have its system fully restored by the end of the day Friday, but there will still be some work remaining Saturday. Ryan Nelson, CEO, said the cooperative’s service crews worked late into the night Thursday and returned at daybreak.

The damage was widespread with trees and debris on lines. The worst of the damage was along a path running from southwest of Willmar to the Long Lake and Hawick areas.

Storm damage 001.jpg
People clean up debris from a fallen tree along Old Mill Road outside Spicer the morning of Friday, May 13, 2022. Strong thunderstorms battered the region early Thursday evening, causing property damage and downed power lines. Xcel Energy was estimating power restoration in the affected area near Spicer to be complete by late Friday or early Saturday.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Renville County

Flooding along the Minnesota River is a concern in Renville County. Mike Hennen, emergency management director, said he will be asking the Board of Commissioners for an emergency declaration Tuesday.

The water level on the Minnesota River has led the county to close one bridge crossing it. There are also high-water problems on township and county roads in the river valley area, he said.

The emergency manager said he had also received reports that winds caused significant damage to structures at the Buffalo Lake Central Cooperative facility in Buffalo Lake.

A metal building sits heavily damaged north of Murdock on Friday, May 13, 2022, following heavy storms in the region the evening prior.
A metal building sits heavily damaged north of Murdock on Friday, May 13, 2022, following heavy storms in the region the evening prior.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Stevens County

With hundreds of power poles blown down by Thursday’s storm, the majority of Stevens County remained without power Friday, according to Stevens County Sheriff Jason Dingman.

“Crews are working on it and making good progress,” Dingman said, noting that many homes were also damaged in the storm. Some of the damage to homes was severe, but most had light to moderate damage, he added.

There were also several commercial buildings damaged in the storm, including airport hangars in Morris, the Morris Fire Hall, the John Deere dealership, Riverview Dairy in rural Morris and numerous others, according to Dingman.

BNSF Railway employees work to pull train cars back onto the tracks just east of Pennock the morning of Friday, May 13, 2022, after strong winds the night before derailed a series of train cars.
BNSF Railway employees work to pull train cars back onto the tracks just east of Pennock the morning of Friday, May 13, 2022, after strong winds the night before derailed a series of train cars.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Train derailment

Four rail cars derailed during the storms late Wednesday in Pennock, according to Lydia Underdahl of BNSF Railway.

At the time of the derailment, the train was stopped, and there were no injuries and no hazardous materials were involved.

As of 2:10 p.m. Friday, the incident scene had been cleared and BNSF's main line was back in service, according to Underdahl.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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