Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An update from storm-damaged Belview July 13, 2011

Entering Belview from Sacred Heart at 9 a.m. on July 2, the morning after the tornado. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher.

LESS THAN TWO WEEKS after an EF-1 tornado ravaged the small town of Belview in southwestern Minnesota, I emailed City Clerk/Treasurer Lori Ryer for an update.

I know she’s busy dealing with issues in the aftermath of the July 1 storm, so I asked only for a brief summary, with a specific request for information about Parkview Home. The nursing home, according to Ryer, received major roof damage that resulted in flooding of the building. Initially, 25 residents were evacuated and taken to care centers in nearby Wabasso, Olivia and Redwood Falls.

Since then, Parkview has closed for repairs, residents have been discharged and admitted to new nursing homes, and staff has been laid off.

When the nursing home will reopen remains uncertain as assessments are still being made. But Ryer anticipates, after talking to staff on Tuesday, that Parkview will be closed for at least several months.

This photo shows Parkview Home and mini golf in the park. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher.

Parkwood Apartments, which is attached to the nursing home, was not damaged, but was without power from Friday afternoon, July 1, until the following Monday evening. Some apartment residents left to stay with family members briefly, but everyone has now returned, Ryer says.

Bridgewood Assisted Living was not damaged, but was without power also.

Damage along South Main Street in Belview. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher.

Throughout the rest of this community of 375 residents, many home and business owners are still awaiting insurance adjusters. Many homes received minor damage, several moderate, and a few major, damage from results of the 95 – 105 mph tornadic winds, Ryer says.

Many garages and sheds were destroyed and quite a number of cars totaled due to trees falling on them, the city clerk continues.

Tom Johnson's SUV was totaled when a tree fell onto it during the Belview tornado. Photo courtesy of Tom and DeLores Johnson.

The Belview school building received major damage, resulting in relocation of the Belview Learning Center summer program. Ryer hopes that program will be up and running in the Belview school building before the new school year begins.

Despite the destruction in her community, Ryer manages to remain positive: “With all that being said, I still marvel at the fact that we had no injuries during the storm or in the days of clean-up afterwards.”

LIKE RYER, I, TOO, marvel that no one was injured or killed by this storm which swept across Minnesota into Wisconsin July 1. My hometown of Vesta, just down the road from Belview, was hit by a series of downbursts with wind speeds of 90 – 100 mph.

I have many family members living in areas affected by the storms. Damage was minimal to their properties, but most lost trees. A cousin living near Wood Lake, however, saw substantial damage to the family’s farm. My home church, St. John’s Lutheran in Vesta, had half the roof ripped off.

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vesta with the roof half missing. Photo courtesy of Brian Kletscher.

In a few weeks I’m returning to my hometown for the annual Kletscher family reunion. I’m trying to prepare myself for what I’ll see—my little prairie town with fewer trees, the church where I was married now temporarily closed. I always look forward to worshiping there with my mom when I return home.

I expect it will be the trees, though, that I will miss the most. A friend recently told me that the small towns of southwestern Minnesota are like oasises in a land mostly devoid of trees, except for the trees in those towns and the groves that shelter farm sites. He is right.

The communities of Belview and Vesta lost many trees in the July 1 storms. This photo is along a Belview street north of the city park. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher.

But those of us who grew up on this land, and those who live there, appreciate the wide open spaces, the big sky, the fields of corn and beans and those small towns.

Prairie people are strong, caring, determined folks who come together in time of need. I’ve seen that over and over again in the stories I’ve heard and the comments I’ve received on my blog posts while covering the recent storm damage.

To the residents of Belview and Vesta, Tyler and Ruthton, and all the farm places in between, I know you’ll make it through these challenging days. Your roots reach deep into the prairie and no storm can rip away what you have—each other.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

National Weather Service confirms July 1 tornadoes in southwestern Minnesota July 7, 2011

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE confirms what many Minnesotans had already figured out. Several tornadoes touched down during a massive storm system that began near the South Dakota/Minnesota border late Friday afternoon, July 1, and swept as far east as northwestern Wisconsin.

In my home area of Redwood County, two tornadoes were confirmed—both in the northwestern section of the county.

According to the NWS Chanhassen office, an EF-1 tornado with maximum winds of 95 – 105 mph began approximately six miles west of Vesta and continued for some 21 miles to the northeast. The maximum half-mile wide twister moved across Belview, which saw the most widespread tree damage in the surveyed area. The tornado then crossed the Minnesota River and ended two miles into eastern Renville County. Click here to read my previous post on the storm damage in Belview.

 

Trees blocked the street north of the Belview City Park following the tornado that passed through this Redwood County community of 375. Photo courtesy of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher.

The second EF-1 Redwood County tornado just nipped the northwestern corner of the county traveling a 2 ½-mile path. The tornado hit the farm of my cousin, Marilyn Schmidt, and her husband, Dan. To see the damage there, click on this post published yesterday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

 

This tractor rigged with chains holds up a wall of a shop on Dan and Marilyn Schmidt's Wood Lake area farm. The building was severely damaged by Friday's twister. I'm showing this photo specifically for the reader who yesterday questioned how a tractor could hold up a wall. Photo courtesy of Heather Rokeh.

Three other tornadoes were confirmed in southwestern Minnesota—the most-damaging an EF-2 in Tyler with winds estimated at 115 mph. Check out the storm assessment of this 3-mile long tornado in Lincoln County near the South Dakota border by clicking here onto the NWS Sioux Falls website.

You’ll also find information there on an EF-1 twister that struck the Ruthton area in Pipestone County with wind speeds of 100 – 110 mph.

Strong winds, not a tornado, apparently caused the damage in my hometown of Vesta. The Chanhassen office of the NWS lists the storm there as “a series of downbursts” with wind speeds of 90 – 100 mph. Destruction in Vesta included dozens of downed trees, a roof partially-lifted from St. John’s Lutheran Church (my home church), smashed grain bins, damage to the elevator and more. To learn more about the damage in Vesta, read my previous blog post by clicking here or click here to read a story published in The Redwood Gazette.

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Vesta with the roof half ripped off by strong winds during the Friday afternoon storm. Photo courtesy of Brian Kletscher.

The NWS also determined that an EF-1 tornado with wind speeds of 100 – 110 mph cut a 300-yard-wide, 2 1/2 –mile swath northeast of Danube, lifting much of the roof from at least one home.

Check out the two NWS websites for maps, photos and more detailed information on the storms and the resulting damage.

Also visit the Belview Blue Jays Facebook page, where you’ll find photos of storm damage and other information from Belview.

IF YOU HAVE INFORMATION and photos you would like to share of storm damage, please submit a comment and I will follow-up with an email to you.

Based on my blog readership yesterday and Tuesday, interest in the southwestern Minnesota storms remains high. Yesterday Minnesota Prairie Roots blog views totaled 1,129, my highest daily total since launching this blog. On an average day, I get around 400 views.

 

Storm rips through my hometown of Vesta July 2, 2011

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

 

What’s your reaction to the blare of tornado warning sirens? May 25, 2011

HOW DO YOU RESPOND to sirens warning of an approaching storm?

I’d like to know, so consider this an unscientific poll spinning off the worst outbreak of deadly tornadoes in the U.S. since 1953. Already the death toll for 2011 has surpassed 450. And we’re not even into June, the peak of tornado season, at least here in Minnesota.

Why have so many died? I haven’t researched the reasons, but some residents of Joplin, Missouri, for example, claim they didn’t hear warning sirens above the roar of the storm.

During the Sunday afternoon tornado that cut a swath through north Minneapolis, sirens failed to work in places like Hugo to the northeast in Washington County. That didn’t sit well with residents who experienced a devastating tornado in 2008.

Even if sirens blare, warning of an approaching tornado or severe thunderstorm, do residents seek shelter?

How do you react when storm warning sirens sound?

A)    Immediately seek shelter in the basement.

B)     Step outside to look at the sky.

C)    Turn on the television or radio or go online for weather updates.

D)    Ignore the sirens.

E)     None of the above. Explain.

Please cast your vote and share your comments.

Not to influence your vote or anything, but I generally choose A. I possess a healthy, deep respect for storms, specifically tornadoes. That stems from growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, near Tracy, a small town devastated by a June 13, 1968, tornado that killed nine and injured 150. The destruction of that F5  (261 – 318 mph winds) tornado, which I saw firsthand, left a lasting impression upon me.

Fortunately, I don’t panic like I once did when storm sirens sound. After I became a mother and realized that my panic was impacting my children, frightening them more than they needed to be frightened, I reigned in my fears. They didn’t need to know that I was afraid.

Other family members may disagree with that current assessment of my reaction to foreboding storms. My 17-year-old son, for example, surmised that I have an overactive imagination when I called him to the window Sunday afternoon to view ominous clouds that I thought might be swirling into a tornado. He actually laughed at me.

However, when storm watches, and especially warnings, are issued, I listen.  And when sirens sound, I prepare to take shelter.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My need to know about the Minneapolis tornado May 22, 2011

A shot of my television screen, showing KSTP coverage of the May 22 Minneapolis tornado.

YOU’RE A NEWS JUNKIE,” he says.

I don’t deny it, especially on this stormy Sunday when a tornado has swept through north Minneapolis, killing one and injuring around 20 others, according to the latest news reports.

Much of the afternoon, after hearing of the storms, I parked on the sofa, eyes fixed on the television screen. I also texted my oldest daughter, who lives in south Minneapolis.

When she finally replied to my “Are you in a safe place?” text, she asked, “No, why?”

So I clued her in that a tornado was moving through north Minneapolis. She was at a friend’s house after attending a concert and apparently not near the storm’s path.

But how was I, the concerned mother, to know? To me, Minneapolis is Minneapolis and my daughter could be anywhere.

My husband, the one who called me the news junkie, claims south Minneapolis lies 10 miles from north. I have no idea.

Once I knew that my oldest daughter was OK, my thoughts shifted east to Wisconsin, where the second daughter lives. I really wasn’t too worried, until 4:49 p.m. when she sent a text: “Sirens just went off.”

At that time my husband and I were wrapping up a shopping trip to pick up hardware and gardening supplies and a few groceries before filling up with gas and heading home.

The daughter who lives in Appleton on Wisconsin’s eastern side said the area was under a severe thunderstorm warning and flood watch and that she was at her apartment, but not in the basement.

Uh, huh. “Did I not teach you to go to the basement when the sirens sound?” I thought, but did not text.

Her follow-up message mentioned an unconfirmed funnel cloud in a nearby town.

That text reminded me that I really wanted to watch the 5 p.m. news. And that is when my spouse called me a news junkie.

What does he expect from someone who watched the CBS evening news with Walter Cronkite as a child and wanted to emulate the television news anchor? What does he expect from someone with a mass communications degree, emphasis in news editorial? What does he expect from a former newspaper reporter and now freelance writer and blogger? What does he expect from someone who is nosy and curious by nature?

Yes, I am a news junkie.

But I’m also a mom and a Minnesotan—two equally good reasons for staying informed.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Worrying about the Wisconsin tornadoes April 10, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:49 PM
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FOR THE PAST 1 1/2 HOURS, after receiving a text from my second daughter that she is hunkered down in the basement of her Appleton, Wisconsin, apartment, I have been worrying.

Her area of Wisconsin has been under a tornado warning.

So, for awhile, we texted back and forth, until finally, I thought it easier to call.

She didn’t seem scared, only worried about predicted hail and about her car sitting out in the parking lot.

Me? My daughter’s safety is top on my list. She is on call tonight for her job as a Spanish medical interpreter and I wanted to make sure she stayed put.

I made the mistake of logging onto the severe weather chatline on the area’s television station, FOX 11 WLUK-TV. Reports of tornadoes and strong winds and damaged buildings are streaming in.

Minute after minute, I read aloud, to my girl, the live chat comments. Finally, she said, “Mom, I think you’re scaring yourself.”

She would be right. I’m afraid of tornadoes, which could have something to do with the Tracy tornado of June 13, 1968, which killed nine. I lived, back then, only 25 miles from that southwestern Minnesota town.

But on this stormy night in Wisconsin, I’m afraid of a tornado six hours away in a state where I know few towns by name, let alone the counties where tornado warnings have been issued.

I recognize Menasha and Oskosh and Appleton and Little Chute.

And as I read the live chat comments, I realize that half of what I’m reading may be untrue.

So I read this comment to my daughter: “If people could type only what they know to be true that would be helpful!”

For the mom back in Minnesota, that would be very helpful.

And then my daughter tells me she has to go, that work is calling. And I tell her, emphasizing each word, “Don’t go anywhere.”

I’m hoping she will listen.

I tell her dad to call her.

But before he can, my cell phone rings. My daughter was asked to interpret over the phone. But because she was hunkered in the basement, without everything she needed for work, the scheduler told her to stay put.

For that I am thankful.

The last time I checked the National Weather Service, the storm was moving away from Appleton, toward the Green Bay area.

I’ve asked my daughter to let me know if there’s any storm damage in her area of Wisconsin.

But for now, I think I’ll log off that live severe weather chat line and call it a night. Oh, and I’ll say a prayer for our Wisconsin neighbors, adding a prayer also that my daughter doesn’t get called out on this stormy night.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Unofficial nasty weather in southwestern Minnesota October 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 3:06 PM
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Redwood County farmland only miles from my hometown of Vesta. This photo was taken last spring.

ABOUT MID-MORNING TODAY, an e-mail popped into my in-box. “Windy greetings” the subject line read. I clicked.

“Are you blowing away down there too?” wrote my cousin Dawn. “This is just nasty.”

She didn’t explain how nasty, but I can about guess. Dawn lives in Redwood County, smack dab in the middle of the Minnesota prairie—the place of endless fields, wide open spaces and few trees to break the unrelenting wind.

Big skies, wide open spaces and wind are a part of the landscape in southwestern Minnesota, where I shot this cornfield image about two months ago.

And today, from all I’ve read and heard, those winds will blow strong and sustained at 30 – 40 mph, sometimes reaching gusts of 60 mph. Dawn’s right. That’s downright nasty. And scary.

I speak from experience. This past summer I was caught, along with three family members, for 45 minutes in a car in a night-time thunderstorm that packed 70 mph winds. We were on unfamiliar Redwood County Road 5 between Walnut Grove and my hometown of Vesta when the storm hit.

I have never been more frightened in my life. Torrential rain in pitch black darkness pierced periodically by jagged lightning. Winds buffeting and rocking the car, flattening roadside grasses to the gravel shoulders. No radio. No cell phone service. No way of knowing where we were, what lay ahead of us, when the storm would end.

That July night I pressed my head against the back of the car seat in prayer. My 78-year-old mom kept telling us we were in the safest place we could be although I didn’t believe her for a second and I told her so. But I suppose it’s just natural for a mother to comfort her child, even if that daughter is in her 50s.

So…, when you start talking wind, strong wind, I listen. As I look out of my office window now I see the tops of the trees dancing against the backdrop of a dismal, gray sky. Rain is falling. My neighbor’s slender, house-hugging shrubs are swaying, too, and the few leaves left on trees are twisting and turning and spiraling to the earth.

Yet, because I live in a valley in Faribault, in the city, I certainly am not seeing the full power of the wind like my cousin out on the wind-swept prairie some 100 miles away.

My advice to Dawn (who also rode out that July storm in a vehicle) would be this: Do not travel. And, if you must attend your son’s football game tonight, pull on the winter coat, cap and mittens, and anchor yourself to the bleachers.

U.S. Highway 14 slices through the heart of southwestern Minnesota. I wouldn't advise travel if winds reach 60 - 70 mph. I took this photo several years ago during the summer.

READERS, IF YOU have a weather report to share, please submit a comment to Minnesota Prairie Roots. You know how we Minnesotans are—always obsessed with the weather.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling