Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Latest snowstorm in Minnesota shatters February snowfall record February 21, 2019

My neighbor blows snow from his driveway on Wednesday.

 

HEY, MINNESOTA, we did it. Yesterday’s winter storm pushed us into the snowiest February ever. The current month’s snow total in the Twin Cities as of noon Wednesday was 30.4 inches. That’s a new record, according to the National Weather Service.

 

 

The NWS February snowfall totals for the Twin Cities posted mid-day Wednesday.

 

 

This shatters the February record snowfall of 26.5 inches set 57 years ago in 1962.

 

The forecast on a Twin Cities TV station Wednesday morning predicts more snow.

 

Snow was still falling Wednesday afternoon into evening, earlier in the day at a rate sometimes reaching two inches an hour. With eight days remaining in the month and forecasts for more snow in upcoming days, that record-shattering 30.4 inches will rise even higher.

 

Another neighbor shovels her driveway. The amount of snow on the ground, in piles, everywhere, is insane.

 

Passing by on my street, a white truck in a white landscape.

 

The City of Faribault did a great job clearing streets in my neighborhood on Wednesday.

 

Bravo, Minnesota.

 

I just want the snow to stop, But we still have to get through the rest of February and then March and April.

 

But now that we’ve claimed the snowiest February ever, can we be done with winter?

 

Winter beauty from my backyard.

 

THOUGHTS? I welcome positive comments about winter and snow and waiting for spring. Or I’ll accept congratulations/sympathy on behalf of my state for this new February snowfall record.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Advertisements
 

Tornado count rises in southern Minnesota October 1, 2018

Ten days after an EF2 tornado hit the Faribault Airport, a man surveys the damage just before sunset.

 

MAKE THAT SIXTEEN. The National Weather Service updated from 10 to 16 the number of tornadoes which touched down in southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin on September 20.

 

A half block from my home trees fell onto two vehicles. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The unprecedented massive storm system hit my area hardest with five confirmed tornadoes in Rice County, the strongest an EF2 with wind speeds of 120 – 130 mph, according to the NWS report. That tornado damaged homes in Morristown and along Roberds Lake and destroyed the Faribault airport. Within the city of Faribault, apparent straight line winds felled hundreds of trees, including in my neighborhood, and also damaged houses and other structures. The tornadoes continued north and east of Faribault into Wisconsin causing additional damage.

 

The tornado at the Faribault Municipal Airport, Liz Wall Strohfus Field flipped airplanes and destroyed buildings.

 

The Weather Service states in its report that assessments continue and the final tornado count could change.

 

The single photo I shot along Roberds Lake Boulevard on Sunday evening, 10 days after the tornado. Damage to homes and loss of trees along this section of Roberds Lake is extensive.

 

Sunday evening, 10 days after the storm, Randy and I drove through the countryside, past the airport and along a short section of Roberds Lake Boulevard. Up until then, we chose to stay away as advised by local authorities. Gawkers early on hampered the work of emergency personnel, utility workers and clean-up crews. After seeing too many gawkers in our neighborhood (including the evening of the storm), I decided to wait until things calmed to view the destruction. No need to get in the way.

 

Debris landed on and along Minnesota State Highway 21 by the Faribault Airport. This is right off Interstate 35. I expect the scene was much worse right after the tornado. I shot this 10 days after the storm and shortly before sunset.

 

Ten days out, plenty of people are still working hard to remove trees, clear properties and repair storm-damaged buildings. Many roofs remain partially covered with tarps. I didn’t take many photos, except of the airport damage, and that as we drove past the airport. Mostly metal debris still lines road ditches and the median along Minnesota State Highway 21. I can only imagine how bad this area looked right after the tornado because it still looks bad.

 

Look closely and you will see aircraft under the debris.

 

Yet, in all of this we find reason to remain thankful. Not a single person was killed, which is remarkable given the 16 tornadoes and straight line winds. The NWS credits a Wireless Emergency Alert notification of the approaching tornadoes for saving lives. I agree. I got that alert on my cell phone. But I’d also seen an alert on TV and heard an alert on the local radio station to seek immediate shelter. I take these warnings seriously. There was a reason alerts sounded and emergency sirens blared, here in Faribault off and on for 40 minutes. They save lives. To ignore those warnings is a risk I will never take. Ever.

FYI: Click here to read the updated National Weather Service report released on Friday.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Field fires aplenty in Minnesota’s Red Flag areas October 6, 2011

A farm site between Morgan and Redwood Falls in southwestern Minnesota, where field conditions are dry and the fire danger high.

DRY, WINDY CONDITIONS persist in much of Minnesota creating ideal conditions for fire.

Unless you’ve had your head buried inside, you understand the danger and the reason for the National Weather Service’s Red Flag Warning that covers central and southern Minnesota.

Today would not be the day to build a campfire, have a bonfire or toss a cigarette butt out the car window (like you should any day). Burning bans are in effect throughout the state.

If forecasters are correct, these weather conditions will continue for awhile.

That all said, I wondered if my nephew, a kindergarten teacher and Westbrook volunteer firefighter, has been battling any blazes in his region of southwestern Minnesota.

Adam checked in with me early this morning:

Fires—we have had quite a few around here. Westbrook has had two; Dovray, two; and Walnut Grove, for sure three, all in the past week. It’s very dry and with the wind, it doesn’t take much to create a big fire. Many of the calls are mutual aid—helping neighboring towns with fires, but that’s how we do things here. All of them have been combines and fields. I haven’t made it to many of them as I could not get out of school at the time. But I made it to one on Sunday.

A story in today’s The Cottonwood County Citizen about a county-wide burning ban confirms Adam’s summary:

These burning bans come in the wake of at least a half-dozen fires that occurred around the county, most of which involved the harvest. Extremely dry conditions, low humidity and high winds have increased the potential for major fires.

I found an article in last Thursday’s Jackson County Pilot headlined “Combine fire sparks massive field blaze.” The story went on to say that a combine fire, fueled by 40 mph winds, quickly spread into a field. Fire crews from numerous departments in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa were called to the scene.

The Faribault Daily News today reports a Monday afternoon fire in the Lonsdale-Montgomery area that burned five acres of hay, 30 acres of swamp and 30 – 50 acres of corn.

Another blaze, this one on Wednesday afternoon in a soybean field northwest of Luverne, is reported in The Rock County Star Herald. In that case, farmers disked strips of black dirt to help contain the fire.

It’s a dangerous situation out there right now, especially for farmers bringing in the harvest in those dry, dry fields.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE to report on fires in your area, submit a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What a Red Flag Warning means for Minnesota farmers October 4, 2011

Farmers are in the fields harvesting corn (pictured here) and soybeans under extremely dry conditions.

WHEN I HEARD about the National Weather Service’s “Red Flag Warning” for west central and south central Minnesota Monday evening, it was the first time I had heard that terminology.

What does it mean?

Here’s the definition, direct from the NWS:

A RED FLAG WARNING MEANS THAT CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE EITHER OCCURRING NOW…OR WILL SHORTLY. A COMBINATION OF STRONG WINDS…LOW RELATIVE HUMIDTY…AND WARM TEMPERATURES WILL CREATE EXPLOSIVE FIRE GROWTH POTENTIAL.

That’s a strongly-worded warning for those folks living in the communities and rural areas along and west of a line from Alexandria to Fairmont.

Farmers, especially, have to be worried about the fire danger given they are in the middle of harvesting corn and soybeans in tinder dry fields. Mix dry plant material, strong winds and the heat of a combine exhaust, for example, and you have the potential for a devastating fire.

Michael, a southwestern Minnesota farmer who blogs at Minnesota Farmer, writes two days ago about fires he spotted last Thursday while combining beans. Click here to read his October 2 post which explains how blazes start and the resulting, devastating financial impact on farmers.

It’s all too easy for those of us who live in town, even if we grew up on a farm, to forget about the dangers that come with harvest. And this year, the fire danger is particularly high.

The Red Flag Warning remains in effect until 7 p.m. Wednesday.

DO YOU LIVE in the Red Flag Warning area? If so, has there been an increase in the number of fires recently? Please submit a comment and share.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hot as “you know what” in Minnesota July 18, 2011

Air conditioners will be working overtime in Minnesota this week.

SO, MINNESOTANS, here’s the weather question of the day: “How hot is it outside?”

Although I’m of German heritage, I’d unequivocally state, “hotter than a Finish sauna.”

With a predicted dewpoint in the 70s (Sunday it reached an almost unheard of 81) and temperatures in the 90s today, the National Weather Service in Chanhassen has continued an extensive heat warning for central and southern Minnesota and west central Wisconsin through 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Heat indexes of more than 105 degrees (some media outlets are saying 110 – 117 degrees) are expected for several-hour stretches during the afternoon, creating “a dangerous situation in which heat illnesses are likely.” Ya think?

That means, folks, that we need to keep ourselves cool (preferably in an air conditioned building), drink plenty of fluids (and we’re not talking alcohol here) and stay out of the sun.

Don't increase your fluid intake via alcohol.

Honestly, when I stepped outside Sunday evening, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. You can guess how long I stayed outdoors. Long enough to turn around and walk back inside the house. I had been out earlier photographing the air conditioner you see above. I had a little trouble with the camera lens fogging over as soon as I stepped outdoors. The windows on our house also fogged, a phenomenon I have not previously seen except when I cook pasta. Weird stuff this weather.

All joking aside, this heat and humidity can be downright dangerous, especially for anyone working outdoors.

I know of some teens supposedly heading to the corn fields early this morning to detassel corn in the Stanton/Northfield area. Here’s my advice: Gulp water, by golly, then gulp some more. Slather on the sun screen, wear a cap and, if you’re at all feeling out of sorts, immediately tell your supervisor. Today would not be the day to tough it out. And, yes, I do know of what I write. As a teen I detasseled corn on days so hot it seemed as if the heavy air would suffocate me in the corn rows.

If you, or your teen, is starting a job this week as a corn detasseler, take extra precautions to avoid heat-related health issues. Also, don't quit. Every week in the cornfield won't be like this one and you' likely work only til noon.

Now, with those dire warnings out of the way, let’s talk about the words and phrases we Minnesotans use to describe this stretch of humid, hot weather. Let me pull out my Minnesota Thesaurus and thumb through the pages.

Here are some select synonyms for our current weather: steamy, muggy, scorching hot, sweltering, a real barn burner, so hot you could fry an egg on the pavement, like a sauna, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”…

Whichever words you choose from that non-inclusive list, you might want to add, “It could be worse.” We Minnesotans like to tack that little phrase onto our statements lest, by not adding that qualifier, we leave ourselves open to worse circumstances/situations/weather. We do not want to tempt fate.

After all, come December, we could get socked with a raging blizzard that dumps two feet of snow on us followed by a week of temperatures plummeting to 20-below, and that’s without the windchill. We wouldn’t want to invite a Siberian winter by forgetting, this week, to say, “It could be worse.”

A snow pile divides traffic lanes along Fourth Street/Minnesota Highway 60 a block from Central Avenue in Faribault following a December 2010 snowstorm.

In summary, it’s best, really, not to overly-complain about the hellish, hot, scorching, stifling, steamy, sticky, sweltering, miserable, muggy, unbearable, oppressive heat and humidity. OK, then?

And, please, don’t be thinking, “Whatever, Audrey.”

IT’S YOUR TURN to speak up. How would you describe this weather we’re experiencing in Minnesota? How are you coping? Add your ending to this prhase: “It’s so hot in Minnesota that…”  Submit a comment and tell me whatever.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Preparing for the floods, which haven’t arrived, yet, anyway March 25, 2011

Xcel Energy sandbagged its electrical substation near the Straight River in preparation for spring flooding. See the green, fenced enclosures next to the building. Last fall this substation flooded during a flash flood.

UNLESS THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE changes its forecast, a flood warning that covers Rice County expires at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

That’s good news for Faribault, where residents and officials have been nervously watching the rising, and now receding, Cannon and Straight Rivers that run through town.

Six months ago, those rivers rushed over their banks during a September flash flood, threatening homes and businesses and actually flooding some. Sewage also backed up in to homes and the city’s wastewater treatment plant was compromised. Because of the sudden nature of that flood, my community was not fully prepared.

This spring, though, following a winter of heavy snowfall and then a quick snow melt, officials had emergency plans in place to deal with possible flooding. They had even recruited students to fill sandbags, stockpiled at a local park for residential use.

They were ready. Ready is good.

Better to be safe than sorry.

Here’s a look at some river and preparedness scenes I shot near the Cannon and Straight Rivers Wednesday evening.

If we don’t get another major storm—rain or snow— and the weather stays cold, slowing the snow melt, I think we should be OK here in Faribault, meaning no need to worry about flooding.

But then that can change on a dime, and I’ve heard predictions of another possible river crest next week.

And so we wait…prepared.

Student volunteers and others filled sandbags, available to residents who needed them. These were stockpiled at South Alexander Park by the Cannon River when I shot this image Wednesday evening.

River waters rise close to Faribault Foods. Last fall floodwaters reached as far as the overhead doors.

The Straight River encroaches on Faribault's Water Reclamation Plant, which now appears "safe" from floodwaters.

A sandbagged utility area along the Straight River by the viaduct and Teepee Tonka Park on Faribault's east side.

CLICK HERE to view images from last September’s flash flood in Faribault, comparing the situation then to today. River levels are much lower than six months ago.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

As rain and snow fall, the flood threat rises in Minnesota March 22, 2011

The view from my front window at 8 a.m. today as sleet pelted Faribault.

I AWOKE THIS MORNING to a world of gray and white and sleet pelting in sheets against the windows.

So much for spring…

When I plucked the The Faribault Daily News from the front steps, shook off the water droplets soaking the paper’s plastic sleeve, removed and opened the paper, I read this headline: STILL RISING—National Weather Service declares flood warning for Rice County as Straight River closes in on 10 feet.

And so the spring flood season has begun here in Minnesota with road closures in the Henderson area southwest of the Twin Cities, between Windom and Fulda in southwestern Minnesota and probably other places of which I am unaware.

Here in Faribault, officials are keeping a close eye on the rising Straight and Cannon Rivers. Sandbags are filled and plans are in place to put them in place should the need arise. Of major concern is the riverside wastewater treatment plant which was flooded during a flash flood last September. During that flood six months ago, many homes and some businesses were inundated with floodwaters. A local riverside park, which often floods in the spring, was also under feet of water.

Upon checking the National Weather Service Twin Cities, MN., website map, I see most of the southern half of Minnesota falls under a flood warning.

For the north, winter storm and blizzard warnings have been issued. The last I heard, several inches of snow are expected to fall in my area sometime today and/or into tomorrow.

A car passes by my home at 8 a.m. as heavy sleet fell. Sleet also pelted Faribault during the night.

Rain continues to fall here as we approach the noon hour with temperatures hovering several degrees above freezing.

Personally, I’ve been affected by this wet weather with some minor water seeping into a corner of the basement—enough to soak up, move belongings and turn on the fans. It’s a hassle, but certainly nothing compared to the issues some folks will face as the snow and rain fall and the rivers rise.

PLEASE SUBMIT a comment with any information you have about rising rivers/creeks/streams and/or flooding in your area of Minnesota. I would like to share your stories with Minnesota Prairie Roots readers.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling