Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Ominous skies near Nerstrand July 2, 2011

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HAD I NOT KNOWN about the storm damage earlier that evening in southwestern Minnesota, I may not have worried so much.

Had my sister not called from Waseca and advised my husband and me to “get home,” I may not have worried so much.

Had the clouds not turned dark and foreboding, looming low enough to nearly brush the earth, I may not have worried so much.

Had my friend Fritz kept quiet and not shared her tales of tornado terror, I may not have worried so much.

But Friday evening when a strong storm hit my hometown of Vesta, when my sister warned of the approaching storm, when the sky threatened and when Fritz told her stories, I worried. I cannot help myself. Storms scare me.

And here are the images, taken at a farm near Nerstrand where I was attending a party, to prove why I was concerned.

Despite my fear, I must admit that the skies held a certain ominous beauty.

Spectacular lightning—our own fireworks show—crisscrossed the sky for hours. I attempted a few lightning shots, but could never get the timing right. And when you’re scared, holding the camera still enough for a slow shutter speed doesn’t work. Rain also kept me from pulling out my Canon.

The evening ended without any severe storms in our locale, despite skies that I swore would drop a tornado at any minute.

But in my hometown, the results were different. If you haven’t read my earlier post today about the storm in Vesta, click here. My brother was stopped twice trying to get into town to check on our mom, who is OK.

After the ominous clouds and the rain, this rainbow appeared.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Storm rips through my hometown of Vesta

WHENEVER ONE of my siblings calls saying, “I just want you to know Mom is OK, but…,” I prepare myself mentally for her latest health crises.

But Friday evening when my sister Lanae reached me via cell phone while my husband and I were en route to a party near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, the news was totally unexpected.

My hometown of Vesta in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota had been struck by straight-line winds.

While my mom’s house—once the retirement home of my paternal grandparents—had gone apparently unscathed, other structures in town were damaged. But at least my mother and aunts and uncles and a niece were safe.

In my sister’s early report, which came second-hand via relatives in the area, she shared that half the roof was ripped off our home church, St. John’s Lutheran. Hours later, after arriving home from the party, I found photos in my email in-box of the storm’s destruction. I nearly broke down and cried when I saw my home church with the partially missing roof.

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vesta with the roof half ripped off during the Friday evening storm.

The images also showed damage to the grain elevator and bins in Vesta and trees down on the home place half a mile from town.

Damage to one of the grain bins at the local elevator.

The grain elevator complex, the visual defining landmark in the farming community of Vesta, was ravaged by winds. You'll see the damage near the top of the old grain elevator.

A close-up of the damage wrought upon the old elevator.

Another shot showing some of the debris and damage at the elevator complex.

The wind toppled trees on the farm where I grew up a half mile south of Vesta.

During that phone conversation with my sister, as my husband and I drove along the gravel road toward the gathering with friends, I wanted nothing more than to turn around, pack our suitcase and drive to Vesta 2 ½ hours away.

That’s exactly how I felt more than three decades ago when I lived in Gaylord and the farm where I grew up was hit by a tornado, taking down a silo and tossing grain wagons around the field.

But on this Friday evening, with storms rolling in from the west, I knew this was not practical. I would need to rely on my siblings to keep me informed. My middle brother, who lives in Lamberton some 25 miles away, was on his way to Vesta. I called my two daughters to tell them about the storm.

I wanted so much, though, to also speak with my mom. I needed the comfort of hearing her voice. I wanted to learn about her storm experience. But the phone lines were down in Vesta. Even though Mom owns a cell phone, I doubt she remembers how to use it. She’s never quite adjusted to technology.

And so now it’s Saturday morning and I am exhausted after a night of tossing and turning. Storms do that to me.

Thoughts of my home church—where I was married and attended the funerals of my father, Grandma Kletscher, Grandpa Bode and Uncle Mike—churned through my mind. I worried about where congregants will worship, whether the interior of the church was damaged, if the church, my home church, can be repaired.

I hope today to get some answers and, if I do, I’ll pass that information along to you.

I’ll also share images I shot last night of the storm clouds hanging dark and ominous over the farm site where we gathered with friends for an early Fourth of July celebration.

Nature provided the fireworks—lightning bolt after lightning bolt zig-zagging horizontally across the forbidding sky for hours. Except for some wind and rain, our area escaped the storm that ravaged Vesta and Marshall and other communities to the west.

IF YOU HAVE STORM stories to share from last evening, please submit a comment. KLGR Radio in Redwood Falls is this morning reporting winds of up to 100 mph in Redwood County and the sightings of possible funnel clouds. Click here to read that news report.

FOR THOSE OF YOU UNFAMILIAR with southwestern Minnesota, Vesta sits along State Highway 19 half way between Redwood Falls and Marshall.

Photos courtesy of Brian and Vicki.

©  Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling