Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Riding out a storm in a camper along Lake Minnewaska August 3, 2011

A MONTH AGO, soon after my cousin Marilyn Schmidt and her husband, Dan, arrived at Lake Minnewaska by Glenwood, their daughter Heather Rokeh called with news that a storm had just swept through the Marshall area.

That was late Friday afternoon, July 1. The Schmidts would return to their farm 17 miles northeast of Marshall to find their home and outbuildings damaged by an EF-1 tornado.

A July 1 tornado caused this damage to the Schmidts' shop on their Wood Lake area farm. Eave troughs were ripped from their house and damage done to the roof and siding.

Fast forward a month to this past weekend, when the Schmidts gathered for a family camp-out at Waska Wood in Long Beach along the north side of Lake Minnewaska by Glenwood. Marilyn and Dan were the only two family members still at the lake when a storm rolled in around 7:30 a.m. Monday, August 1.

Unlike an earlier summer storm at the lake, when they had adequate warning and time to seek safety in a nearby shelter, this time the couple had only a moment’s notice—no warning siren—and no time to reach the shelter.

“We saw that we were suddenly in a warning to take cover on TV,” Marilyn says. “The wind hit hard and fast, lasting about one hour. It was scary as we were stuck to ride it out (in their new camper purchased on July 1 and delivered two weeks ago). The branches were flying and soon the trees were snapping and uprooting. We had a large cottonwood uproot behind our camper which fell next to our camper. We felt and heard the thump and the branches brush the trailer.”

The tree that fell behind the Schmidts' camper.

Marilyn, that would scare the you-know-what out of me, too. Last summer I rode out a storm packing 70 mph winds along Redwood County Road 5 north of Walnut Grove and that was scary enough, without the falling trees. You can read about that frightening experience by clicking here.

But back to the extended Schmidt family and their experience: Several of their campers were damaged with a tree crushing the front of one, holes punched into the roof on another with rainwater flooding the interior, and windows and deck rails broken.

A hole punched in a camper roof.

A broken bedroom window in a camper.

Despite all the damage, Marilyn’s daughter Heather says, “I’m just so thankful no one was hurt in all of these storms. I thank the good Lord everyday that he keeps us safe.”

Once the winds subsided, the Schmidts emerged from their camper to check on other park residents and to survey the damage. Trees were down everywhere with power lines. Mobile summer homes in the park next door were totaled by the storm. Boats and docks were ravaged.

That’s when Marilyn decided they should drive into Glenwood to buy a rake and help with clean up. They drove through a flooded State Highway 29, with the aid of a Minnesota Department of Transportation pilot car, into town. Glenwood was a mess with trees and power lines down everywhere, she says, and streets teeming with rescue and utility crews, plows and fire trucks.

Upon returning to the campground, the couple worked side by side with other campers cleaning up brush and debris. “I find it remarkable the resilience of people to quickly get to work and clean up everything,” Marilyn says. “…people were telling stories about how they took the storm. Some were emotional and in shock that such a storm would hit so soon again.” The storm a month earlier, with 80 mph winds and heavy rain, also caused significant damage.

Says Heather: “How unlucky can we all get? Seriously!”

I don’t know, Heather. A storm on July 1. A storm on August 1. If I were you, I’d keep a close eye on the sky come September 1.

PHOTOS BY MIKAYLA SALFER

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Damage suggests tornado hit Wood Lake farm July 6, 2011

DAN AND MARILYN SCHMIDT had just arrived for the July Fourth holiday weekend at a west central Minnesota lake when they got the phone call from their daughter, Heather Rokeh. She was calling from Marshall with news that a storm had swept through town. It was late Friday afternoon, July 1.

Dan asked about their farm 20 miles northeast of Marshall. Heather suggested that “it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have someone check it out.”

And so Heather’s sister, Amy St. Pierre, and Amy’s husband and daughter went to the farm, surveyed the damage, then called the Schmidts. The couple returned that night to inspect their Wood Lake area farm.

Every building had been damaged. Hail pounded holes in the siding on the house, where shingles and an antenna were blown off. The door of the Quonset building had been ripped away with part of the board trim speared into the ground.

Half the roof was blown off the shop, collapsing an interior wall. That wall is now being held up by two chains and a tractor until items inside can be removed and the building demolished.

Another view of the caved-in shop wall.

The exposed interior of the shop.

Trees were down or uprooted. Branches littered the farmyard. On one of the two houses on the farm site, the garage was pulled away from the house, leaving a visible gap.

Here you see light shining through the space where an attached garage was separated from the house during Friday's storm.

“A lot of these things spelled out tornado for us,” says Heather. “The twisting of the trees, things stuck in the ground and the twisted buildings all suggest tornado to us.”

Whether straight-line winds or tornado, Heather remains grateful: “We are so thankful no one was injured.”

This lean-to, connected to a hog barn, was lifted up, twisted and set back down on top of a stock chopper. The hog barn was OK, but the lean-to was deemed unsafe and removed on Saturday.

This photo shows a portion of the lean-to that was lifted and dropped onto the stock chopper pictured here.

This grain dryer was moved and it is now sitting crooked on its foundation. The cement slab foundation was cracked and cement blocks are now sitting at an angle.

IF YOUR FARM, HOME or community was damaged during the July 1 storm in southwestern Minnesota, I’d like to hear from you. Submit a comment summarizing your storm experience, the damage to your property or town, and progress toward recovery. If you have photos to share, like those above from my cousin Heather, let me know and I’ll be in touch.

Also check out my previous posts on storm damage in my hometown of Vesta and in neighboring Belview.

PHOTOS BY HEATHER ROKEH Copyright 2011

Text copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling