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Disaster déjà vu: States of emergency again for Crow Wing, Cass counties

A Crow Wing County Highway Department worker stands among the tree debris Thursday on Ojibwa Road and Hidden Paradise Drive. Crews were moving along the highway to clear the road of fallen trees. (Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls)

For the second time this summer, Crow Wing County declared a state of emergency in the wake of a severe storm.

The county board Tuesday passed a resolution declaring the state of emergency after John Bowen, emergency management director, told commissioners the county sustained enough damage to seek state disaster aid.

The cost of debris removal by the highway department and the highway work contractor for Unorganized Territory will exceed the threshold required to receive assistance through the Minnesota Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. To qualify for assistance, the minimum cost to Crow Wing County must show as a result of damages is $111,562.50. A state of emergency declaration is one of the necessary steps required to receive assistance.

Bowen said although damage was just as severe in the areas hit by last week's storm as those hit by last year's July 12 supercell thunderstorm, the damage was not as widespread. Still, the area affected was essentially the same area that felt the brunt of the storm last year.

"Is there something about the topography of the land that it would go on that exact track?" asked Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom. "It's like a superhighway of where the winds are going. ... It hasn't been kind."

Bowen said the landscape in that area has changed a lot.

"It's pretty rare to have it come through the same areas back-to-back years for this," Bowen said.

Bowen said closures of Nashway and Ojibwa roads by the sheriff's office was one thing he felt the county did a "really good job" accomplishing. Residents, emergency service and contractors were allowed to use the roads, but everyone else was kept at bay.

"A lot of residents and property owners really thanked them for that," Bowen said. "It got a lot of gawkers out of there."

Included in the affected area are portions of Cass County as well. The city of Lake Shore was heavily damaged by Thursday's storm. Kerry Swenson, Cass County emergency management director, said he was completing the paperwork Tuesday for the county to declare its third state of emergency of the summer—the second in two weeks.

"Cost wise, it's probably going to be more on this latest one, because they (the highway department) have to haul more," Swenson said. "A lot of the stuff two weeks ago was more woods, rural areas, and they were just able to push stuff back into the woods."

Swenson estimated Cass County has certainly sustained more than $300,000—and likely more than $400,000—in damages from this latest storm. The threshold for Cass County to receive state assistance is $50,992.10.

Swenson said the storm two weeks ago that affected a huge swath of the Northland still might qualify for a presidential disaster declaration, in which case federal dollars would cover damage-related costs. Numbers from St. Louis County would possibly tip the scales for that funding, he said.

"I've lived in the area 20-some years, and we've never had three or four events back-to-back like this where we've had this much damage," Swenson said. "And I hope we don't again."

According to the National Weather Service in Duluth, the damage brought on by Thursday's storms were consistent with straight-line winds. Wind speeds measured at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport were 78 mph, and a private weather station in Nisswa measured winds at 73 mph.

"It was definitely a bow echo," said Dean Packingham, NWS meteorologist. "It produced damage from west of (Brainerd) all the way through, and then lit up again and came through Duluth."

A bow echo, the NWS reports, is a radar echo shaped like a bow that often produces damaging straight-line winds and can sometimes produce tornadoes usually on its northern end.

Rains on the way ... again

It appears the Brainerd lakes area is not out of the clear when it comes to severe weather, Packingham said. The NWS forecast places the lakes area squarely in center of severe thunderstorms expected Wednesday, bringing with them heavy rain.

"Right now, the models are kind of all over the place," Packingham said. "But what it is agreeing on is there is just an obscene amount of moisture and a developing warm front in the area, two combinations that are never good."

The NWS issued a hydrologic outlook but has yet to issue a flash flood watch, because it's not yet clear where the heaviest rainfall will occur, he said.

"We're not comfortable in exactly where this is all going to set up," Packingham said. "Right now, it looks like (the Brainerd) area."

According to NWS records, the average rainfall in Brainerd by this date in a given year is 9.76 inches. So far this year, Brainerd has recorded 15.41 inches of rain.

Packingham said he's been at the NWS for 25 years, so he's seen a lot when it comes to weather. This summer's severe weather events, although frequent, are not necessarily outside of the norm in his experience.

"The summer after an El Nino breaks down, you get a very potentially volatile year," he said. "We were definitely due for it."

Packingham said what is unusual is the relatively quiet summers we've had recently that might make this one seem extraordinary.

"I do remember years like this in the past, and we actually never used to have as big of breaks like the past several years, where we didn't really issue that many warnings," he said.

One thing that is unusual about the current weather patterns, though, is typically the storm track has pushed up into southern Canada by this time of year.

"A lot of time, you'll remember, your grass starts to brown by this time of year," Packingham said.

Storm-affected roads reopen

County Road 115 (Ojibwa Road/Nashway Road) and County Road 127 (west of County Road 137) reopen to traffic at 4 p.m. Tuesday as storm debris cleanup and utility work was completed.

"Please be watchful for private property storm cleanup work still taking place," a news release stated.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her Bachelor's degree in professional journalism from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Perkins has interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before joining the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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