Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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.

 

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

 

Belview pulls together after destructive storm

THREE MONTHS AGO Merlin and Iylene Kletscher closed on the purchase of a foreclosed house along Main Street in Belview. They plan to sell their lake home near New London and move back to Iylene’s hometown, also within 10 miles of Merlin’s hometown of Vesta.

My aunt and uncle want to be closer to family and friends and back in a small town like Belview with a population of 375.

They chose the Main Street fixer-upper, among other reasons, for all the beautiful trees on the property.

Today most of those trees are gone, toppled in a storm that swept through Belview and a wide-spread area of southwestern Minnesota late Friday afternoon. The storm ripped off roofs, took down power lines and trees, smashed grain bins and elevators and more as fierce winds roared across the flat prairie.

Merlin and Iylene Kletscher's home on the left, surrounded by downed trees.

Now Merlin and Iylene, like so many others in this area of Minnesota, are dealing with insurance companies and contractors as they clean up and repair their homes and businesses.

“The new chimney we had installed is leaning,” my uncle says. “The new shingles are missing ridge caps. We have broken windows and torn screens, etc.” The couple had just installed new windows in their home and made other major improvements.

Despite all of that damage to a house he and Iylene have worked so hard to restore, my uncle doesn’t seem at all discouraged. Rather, he praises Belview’s reaction to the storm: “Belview is amazing in that the people just pull together…I can’t say enough good things about the fire department and city employees and council. While we were there, trucks, tractors, 4-wheelers, payloaders, backhoes and pickups went by our house about one every 30 seconds pulling trees, debris or branches to the MPCA-approved burn site on the northeast edge of town.”

It seems the city was prepared for a natural disaster such as Friday’s storm. Log onto the city website and you’ll find a “CONSUMER ALERT: SUMMER STORM SEASON” posted by City Clerk Lori Ryer on May 24 encouraging residents to prepare for summer storms.

Entering Belview from Sacred Heart at 9 a.m. on July 2.

The city of Belview's water department building.

The ferocity of Friday’s storm is impressive. “Our neighbor across the street in Belview said that during the height of the storm, he couldn’t see his mother’s house right next door!” Merlin shares. “Chad Krinke (next door neighbor and relative) said two inches of rain fell in 20 minutes—he called us about a half hour after it hit, giving a report on our house damage. The city was blocked off, so no one could get in unless they had specific ties to someone in the city.”

Trees blocked the street north of the Belview City Park.

Jerry Hagen's house, across the street from Merlin and Iylene's home in a July 2 photo.

Residents of Parkview Home, next to the city park, were evacuated Friday night. This photo shows the nursing home and mini golf in the park. The rubber roof of the nursing home was peeled off during the storm.

Storm damage at the home of the Rev. Daniel Faugstad family.

Damage along South Main Street.

Another tree toppled onto a house.

More residential storm damage in Belview.

Merlin also reports that a farmer just west of nearby Vesta (my hometown) recorded a high wind speed of 110 mph on his wind velocity meter during the storm. I have not yet confirmed that information. Vesta was also hard hit by the storm. Click here to read that story and view photos of the damage.

The damaged bins and elevator at Meadowland Farmers Elevator in Vesta.

Neighboring Belview and Vesta are only two of the many, many small towns in southwestern Minnesota hit by Friday’s storms. I expect that hundreds of farm places were also ravaged. For the most part, the disaster has not been covered by metro media and that bothers me—a lot.

IF YOU LIVE in southwestern Minnesota and were impacted by the storm, please submit a comment telling me about your personal experiences (where were you/did you seek shelter/what was the storm like, etc.), damage to your property or town, and recovery progress. I am also looking for photos to publish, so contact me via a comment and I will follow-up by emailing you.

PHOTOS COURTESY of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher

© Copyright 2011 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