Mysterious wind event witnessed from Pine River City Hall
Damage was limited to a single trailer and its contents
PINE RIVER — Pine River Clerk Terri Dabill and Deputy Clerk Rilla Anderson were so mesmerized by a recent weather phenomena that they didn't think to duck and cover until a visitor to city hall suggested it.
It all started around 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7, with a stiff wind blowing to the north. Dabill said she took note of it because it was taking all the red leaves off the crab apple trees in front of city hall and blowing them toward the highway. Brian Noska, owner of The Tradesmen next door, was there paying a bill at the time.
I watched the trailer go up in the air, come down, go back up and then it landed in the middle of the southbound lane
"It was blowing straight at first when the leaves were going off the tree and Terri was talking about how bummed she was all the leaves were going off her pretty tree," Noska said. "It just kept going and getting worse, then it was kind of swirling in my mind."
The leaves drew Dabill's eyes across the highway to where the Boy Scouts had a trailer full of aluminum cans to recycle. The trailer was moving apparently under the power of the wind.
"I watched the trailer go up in the air, come down, go back up and then it landed in the middle of the southbound lane," Dabill said.
The trailer went up in the air and flipped completely over before being deposited upside down over 10 feet away in the middle of the southbound lane of Highway 371, but then the wind that carried the leaves away from city hall reversed.
"All of those cans that fell out turned into silver bullets," Dabill said. "All of the cans started coming straight at us and they were bouncing off the glass."
Anderson had come to the window by this time as they witnessed the cans from the trailer being hurled against the city hall windows. Noska told them to get away from the window and they agreed. Luckily, the window wasn't damaged or broken in any way.
Noska told Dabill and Anderson that from his angle on the other side of the counter, he saw the leaves and debris in the wind rotating. He didn't think it looked like an actual tornado, but that was the first thing he could think to compare it to, except for maybe dust devils.
The cans had been blown down the street some distance, and Dabill later received a call about the mess the wind left behind.
"Chris Johnson came in and said someone had been driving with the back end of their pickup full of cans," Dabill said. "Because the road was literally covered with aluminum cans."
If you had a day with 40 mile per hour winds, I'm guessing that trailer wouldn't move, or it wouldn't move that way, so something obviously caused that.
Somehow, the trailer and its contents were the only casualty in the whole event. Anderson and Dabill later reflected in amazement that the event occurred during a lull in what was otherwise wall-to-wall traffic through town that day.
"I was wondering what it did to the front of my building, because I've got a lot of windows in the front," Noska said. "Nothing happened. One of my bikes just tipped over."
Without video or more data, the strange storm currently defies explanation by meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Duluth, and conditions were not conducive to creating what is known as a dust devil - a small rotational burst of wind that could have possibly affected such a small area.
"There was nothing on the radar that I could see," said Dean Melde, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Duluth. "I checked observations because we have equipment in Pine River, and around that time the winds in Pine River were the northwest to north and 5 to 9 miles per hour. That day was cool and the temperatures at that time were in the upper 40s. I don't have an explanation."
That's not to say there is no explanation, just that there is not enough information to definitively say how it happened. Monday morning, Oct. 10, Dabill and Anderson were trying to get a copy of the surveillance video from that time from the city hall building to see if it captured anything. If that footage becomes available, meteorologists may be able to come up with a more complete theory.
"I would like to see the video," Melde said. "Maybe we could figure something out about what could have possibly caused it to happen."
Melde said dust devils could produce rotational winds like those Noska reported, but they traditionally occur on warm days. He also said a sudden, stronger rain shower can sometimes cause the wind to spin upward, but conditions still did not appear favorable for such an occurrence.
He did say there must have been a significant wind in that small area.
"It's substantial," Melde said. "If you had a day with 40 mile per hour winds, I'm guessing that trailer wouldn't move, or it wouldn't move that way, so something obviously caused that."
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com.