BAY LAKE-Damaging winds that tore through the Placid Lake area south of Deerwood Sunday night were officially ushered in by a tornado.
The twister, designated EF2 by the National Weather Service, was one of at least four confirmed in central and northeastern Minnesota as severe storms kicked up in the wake of temperatures in the high 80s.
John Bowen, Crow Wing County emergency management director, said he's working with crews from the National Weather Service on damage in the Trommald area. Initial surveys have indicated "quite a bit of damage" in the area, he said, so they're trying to determine if a fifth tornado touched down there.
The tornadoes ranged in intensity from 0-2 on the enhanced F-scale. The most severe tornado, an EF2 that touched down from 7:11 to 7:19 p.m. and crossed Placid Lake, reached estimated wind speeds of 120 mph. Although the NWS is continuing to specify where the tornado traveled, preliminary information indicates it lasted for 3.5 miles and had a maximum width of nearly a half-mile.
It was this tornado that caused two injuries as it traveled near Nokay Lake Road south of Deerwood, the NWS said. Those injuries occurred when trees smashed a mobile home, trapping the occupants inside.
Another tornado, an EF0, touched down north of Staples at about 6:13 p.m. and reached speeds of 65 mph with little damage reported.
Placid Lake Tornado Slideshow - 65 Photos by Steve Kohls - Click to View!
It's unusual for multiple tornadoes to occur at more or less the same time, especially in northern Minnesota, said Carol Christenson, warning coordination meteorologist at the Duluth NWS station.
"To have four almost down at the same ... general timeframe is rare," she said. "But as we know, it does occur. And that's why we all have to be ready to take action."
The severity of the damage from Sunday's storm was greater than the damage from last July's supercell thunderstorm, Bowen said. The difference being this storm was in a smaller, more concentrated area, and less widespread, he said.
Most of the damage was from trees snapping off and falling on homes, he said, as well as some smaller structures that lost roofs or sidewalls.
There's no exact figures available on damaged homes at this point, Bowen said, but he was told there were two homes destroyed. Once insurance adjusters have completed their work this week, the county will contact them and get more precise numbers on damaged homes.
Char Kinzer, public relations manager with Crow Wing Power, said not many customers lost power in the wake of Sunday night's storm. All the customers who did lose power were back online by 10 p.m. Monday, she said, save for a few who were waiting on electricians to make repairs at their homes before the power could be turned back on.
Terry Sluss, external relations assistant director for the Minnesota region of disaster services for the American Red Cross, said the family from Deerwood that was trapped in their destroyed home declined assistance, having found alternate arrangements for shelter. No other Red Cross assistance was needed, he said.
The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office reported a death at a residence with power loss on the 2100 block of County Highway 10. Sgt. D.J. Downie said the office received the call shortly before 1 a.m. Monday, at about the same time power in that area was restored. The 65-year-old man suffered from a condition that required him to use a nebulizer four times daily, Downie said, and without power, the man was unable to administer his treatment.
By the time first responders arrived after the man's son called, he was unconscious, Downie said.
The Salvation Army reported it handed out 120 bottles of water, 76 snacks and 32 meals as part of its relief efforts.
"We had a great response," stated Thomas Isle of the Salvation Army in an email. "One lady said, 'Thanks for caring about us enough to come and see for yourself.' We also met Congressman Rick Nolan. ... He had a water and visited with us on the storm damage."
Neighbors helping neighbors was reported by many affected by the storm. One dramatic example of this was in the case of a medical call to a home on the 24000 block of Placid Drive. Sheriff's deputies responded to the call and found an 85-year-old woman who was beginning to feel weak in the wake of the storm, reported Lt. Scott Goddard. Her driveway was so long and littered with so many fallen trees, the deputies called for boat rescue.
In the meantime, a neighbor with a boat on Placid Lake helped the woman leave her secluded property and dropped her off where a Cuyuna Regional Medical Center ambulance was able to transport her to the hospital-which itself was experiencing power loss from the storm.
Amy Hart, chief operating officer for CRMC, said the hospital used its emergency generators to keep the hospital humming. The power was out for about five hours, during which time all essential devices were kept running.
The retail pharmacy also sustained water damage, Hart said, after the torrential rains flooded a courtyard. Staff stayed until 2:30 a.m. to clean up the water.
During the tornado warning itself, Hart said patients were moved to safe areas away from windows.
"We have policies and procedures, and the staff did a great job," Hart said.
Damaged and destroyed structures are apparent throughout the path of the tornado, which hit Camp Arrowhead on Highway 6 particularly hard. Mitch Olson, a member of the camp's board, said of 23 buildings on the grounds, just four did not sustain damage. Olson estimated as many as 500 trees came down in the storm.
"Luckily, nobody was here at the camp," Olson said. "Pretty much the entire campground was wiped out of trees."
Olson said they will have to cancel a few upcoming camps at the grounds, although the plan is for cleanup to be completed by the largest one planned for the beginning of August.
"We have had 30 different volunteers here all week, cleaning up and moving," Olson said.
The board organized a fundraising effort to support the cost of tree removal, which is not covered as part of the camp's insurance policy. Visit www.gofundme.com/2at7s6k to donate to the cleanup efforts.
Another nearby camp, the Clearwater Forest Camp, fared better from Sunday's storm. Executive Director Rich Swartwood said about 15 trees were lost and power was out for 21 hours. More than 100 people were staying at the camp during the storm. Generators kept freezers up and running and lake water was used to flush toilets, Swartwood said.
Over at Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge, Marketing Director Renee Ashmore said the resort mainly sustained damage to its 18-hole golf course, The Lakes. Approximately 200 trees were uprooted or shorn off, she said, but luckily, the course didn't miss a beat.
The course was obviously closed Sunday during the storm, Ashmore said. But hardworking crews were able to open the front nine holes of the course by noon on Monday and had the full 18 holes available for play by Tuesday afternoon.
"We didn't sustain any structural damage at all, thankfully," Ashmore said.
Visitors were worried by the sirens and the looming storm, Ashmore said, but resort staff did a good job of communicating with guests and directing them to safe places. Some people dining at the golf course had to spend a few minutes in the basement, she said, but that was about the extent of the impact to guests.
In the Trommald area, where a fifth tornado might have occurred, damage to the Cuyuna Country Recreation Area and mountain bike trails resulted in closing for two days as crews assessed the damage and removed obstacles.
"Honestly, we were all expecting the worst," said Josh Boudreaux, trail maintenance manager, by email. "While we were fortunate that there were no injuries in the rec area or campgrounds, there were innumerable numbers of trees downed and many that were damaged and compromised, which created further hazards to campers and bikers alike."
Boudreaux said by 7 a.m. the next morning, members of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew had hit the trails and were clearing brush and debris.
"The (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) focused their efforts with chainsaws in the Yawkey unit, which was hit the hardest, just northeast of the Croft Mine in Crosby," Boudreaux said. "By the end of the first day, seven crew members put in a total of about 40 hours of labor clearing nearly all the trees and debris on the mountain bike trails west of Highway 6 (and) sections of trail washouts were repaired. ... It's truly a joy getting to work side-by-side with the great people we have in the crew, community, and visitors to the area."
Boudreaux cautioned riders to stay vigilant on the trails due to compromised root systems causing additional treefall. Those who encounter obstructions are encouraged to contact Boudreaux at 952-693-8848.
The county is currently evaluating its damage numbers to see if the county qualifies for state assistance, Bowen said. Most of the county's costs associated with storm damage come from debris cleanup, he said.
"From a county standpoint, our numbers aren't near as high as last year," Bowen said. "And that's probably because of the geographical area and how small it is compared to last year's storm."
Bowen reminded homeowners to stay safe as they went about clearing debris and downed trees from their property. It's going to be hot out, he said, so it's important to stay hydrated, as well as watch the radar for possible storms coming through the area.
Christenson advised having a tornado plan and a means of getting warnings ahead of time. Get to the lowest level of a house or building, like a basement, she said. In the event of a tornado while driving, there are two options: stay in the car, remain belted and duck down; or exit the vehicle and lay in a low area, like a ditch, with the head covered.
The NWS said there was potential for more severe weather this weekend across northern Minnesota. On Friday, the best chance for storms was across northwest to north-central Minnesota, with storms expanding into northeast Minnesota (especially along the Canadian border) into early Saturday morning. The storms could include large hail, damaging winds, and heavy rain leading to flash flooding.