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Severe weather in lakes area downs trees, takes out power

It was the first line of severe weather to move in Thursday night, expected to be followed by more stormy skies throughout the night into Friday morning. As the storm front made its way into the area, a 911 caller reported a tornado east of Pillager and a funnel cloud was reported near Nisswa.

Clouds accompanying severe weather on May 12, 2022 in central Minnesota
A shelf cloud on Thursday, May 12, 2022, on Big Pine Lake in Crosslake.
Contributed / Sheila Miller
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BRAINERD — An ominous-looking shelf cloud portended the arrival of severe weather Thursday night, May 12, in the Brainerd lakes area, which was soon followed by multiple reports of trees down across power lines and roadways.

The cloud, which is associated with a thunderstorm gust front and often appears turbulent, boiling or wind-torn, marched quickly through the sky in Baxter and Brainerd just after 8 p.m. The storm to which it was attached prompted tornado warnings in its path, including in Todd, Morrison and Wadena counties beginning shortly before 8 p.m.

It was the first line of severe weather to move in Thursday night, expected to be followed by more stormy skies throughout the night into Friday morning. As the storm front made its way into the area, a 911 caller reported a tornado east of Pillager and a funnel cloud was reported near Nisswa. The National Weather Service had not confirmed any tornadic activity as of Thursday night.

Clouds accompanying severe weather on May 12, 2022 in central Minnesota
A shelf cloud on Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Pillager.
Contributed / Joshua Thomas

Campers and others sought refuge from the storm in various shelters throughout the area as the storm bore down. A dispatcher was heard on the scanner asking someone with a key to meet people in need of shelter at the Deerwood Auditorium, which was apparently locked. At 8:14 p.m., a 61 mph wind gust was reported in Brainerd, according to a local storm report to the weather service.

At 8:18 p.m., Minnesota Power reported 65 outages affecting 5,270 customers, with the majority of those outages occurring to the west and south of Brainerd and some in the Pillager area. At the same time, Crow Wing Power reported numerous outages as well, with more than 1,000 customers impacted in the Baxter area. The number of those affected appeared to grow throughout the night.

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As the first round of storms began to dissipate after 8:30 p.m., downed tree reports came fast and furious.

At 8:25 p.m., multiple trees larger than 12 inches in diameter were reported down along Hessman Hill Road in Pine River. At 8:39 p.m., a tree was down on a power line and on fire in Manhattan Beach, which prompted the Crosslake Fire Department to respond.

In Baxter, a spotter reported eight trees down between their location and the next door neighbor on Red Sand Lake. The trees fell over a period of five minutes at the onset of the storm, according to the report. Several trees were also downed by the winds near the North Memorial Health Ambulance station in Brainerd.

The National Weather Service in Duluth issued an update Thursday evening, noting periods of strong storms, damaging winds and heavy rain were expected. Some areas of the Northland were expected to see multiple rounds of storms, and with heavy rainfall as a threat, a flood warning remained in effect.

Strong to severe storms started in southwestern Minnesota, then spread northeast across much of central and eastern Minnesota into western Wisconsin. Damaging wind gusts and large hail were the primary threats, though a few tornadoes could not be ruled out. Severe weather potential was highest in western and central Minnesota, with that threat diminishing moving eastward, the National Weather Service in Chanhassen stated.

Numerous severe thunderstorms were possible in Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Mille Lacs counties, along with most of Cass and Aitkin counties. Wadena County and other western Minnesota counties were expected to see widespread severe thunderstorms. A tornado watch for Wadena and Todd counties was issued at 5:35 p.m. and was in effect until midnight.

A tree blocks the road in northeast Brainerd.
A tree blocks the road during a storm Thursday, May 12, 2022, in northeast Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“Tonight’s storms will likely be stronger and pose more of a damaging wind threat — especially near Brainerd,” the weather service stated Thursday.

The Storm Prediction Center produced a map showing the areas of the state most at threat for damaging winds. Much of the Brainerd lakes area had a 30% probability and was within an area the center marked as likely to see the strongest winds.

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The lakes area was also at higher risk than the Arrowhead for flash flooding. Excessive runoff from heavy rains was expected to result in flooding of low-lying and flood-prone areas, along with areas with poor drainage and urban areas.

Based on the conditions as of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the Mississippi River near Aitkin was forecast to rise to 14.4 feet by the weekend, maintaining its minor flood stage designation. At 13 feet, the boat ramp at the Aitkin city park floods and a few driveways in the Cedarbrook area are covered in water. Minor flooding of farmland also occurs in the area. At 15 feet, a few homes in the Cedarbrook neighborhood near Eagle Road become surrounded by water and the Aitkin city park becomes flooded.

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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