Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Back in Redwood County after July flash floods July 9, 2018

Just six weeks ago, spring planting was underway in this same area of rural Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

DURING MY LAST TRIP to southwestern Minnesota in mid May, farmers worked the land. Tilling. Planting crops. Rushing to get seeds into the soil after a late spring start.

Now, some six weeks later, acres and acres of that same cropland lie under water, corn and soybean fields flooded by torrential rains. Flash floods that turned farm land into lakes early last week.

On our route west of Redwood Falls then north to Belview then later east of Belview along county roads back to Redwood, Randy and I observed lots of standing water. Massive lakes where crops should now thrive. It was disheartening to see the efforts and hopes of so many farmers gone. Flash, just like that. Weather is always the gamble of farming. I would never have the mental fortitude to farm. I admire those who do.

As we drove, I noted the wash of debris along shoulders, evidence that floodwaters overtook the county road. We drove a narrow ribbon of asphalt, water edging both sides of the roadway. Orange cones and orange flags flagged danger. An orange snow fence blocked a gravel road.

I understood that, days after the flash flood, we had not seen the worst of this devastating storm. But it was enough for me to gauge the significant loss to the farmers of my native Redwood County.

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NOTE: My apologies for the lack of flood images. But I am under strict orders from my ortho surgeon not to use my left hand as I recover from surgery on my broken left wrist. “Use it,” he said, “and you will be back in the OR.” I’ll listen, thank you.

© copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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When torrential rains cause major flooding in my home region of southwestern Minnesota July 4, 2018

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY, my friends. I hope this finds you celebrating your freedom in a fun way.

 

The Redwood River, flooded over its banks, along Redwood County Road 10 heading south out of Vesta earlier this spring. That’s my home farm in the distance. I expect the flooding is much worse now. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In my home region of southwestern Minnesota, where I was supposed to be yesterday and today with extended family, residents are cleaning up after heavy rainfall flooded the region. Flash flooding resulted in water in basements (and higher), road wash-outs and closures, mudslides, swamped farm fields, overflowing rivers and more. That includes in my home county of Redwood. And the communities of Wabasso (where I graduated from high school) and Vesta (my hometown).

After a flurry of texts between me and my five siblings and lots of online searching yesterday, Randy and I decided not to risk the trip into the flooded region. Although I second-guessed our decision multiple times, it was the right one. This morning floodwaters flowed across a section of US highway 14 east of Lamberton, our route to and from my middle brother’s rural acreage just north of that small town. Likewise I expect the rising Cottonwood River has flooded a county road within a mile of our destination.

Some roads have collapsed in Redwood and Renville counties. I don’t trust the structural integrity of any road covered with water. The Redwood County Sheriff’s Department issued this statement on Facebook early yesterday morning:

We have had numerous (reports) of water covering the roadways. Please DO NOT drive on any roadway that has water running over it. MN DOT and Redwood County highway departments are doing the best they can do get these roads blocked off to warn motorists.

 

A combine similar to this was moved from a Tracy dealership onto Highway 14. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

One of the most creative road blocks happened in Tracy where crews parked a massive John Deere combine across Highway 14 to keep traffic off the flooded roadway.

 

This road-side sculpture welcomes travelers to Wabasso. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In Wabasso, which got 11 inches of rain within 12 hours, a resident noted on social media that the white rabbit was safe from floodwaters. He was referencing an over-sized rabbit sculpture along State Highway 68. Wabasso means “white rabbit” and is the local school mascot.

It’s good to find humor in a difficult situation, in an area where residents endured another round of rain this Fourth of July morning.

To those who live in my native southwestern Minnesota (and that includes many family and friends), I am sorry you are experiencing this major flooding. Please be safe.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

7:04 PM, June 13, 1968, Tracy, Minnesota June 13, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:04 PM
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ELLEN HANEY. Mildred Harnden, Barbara Holbrook. Ellen Morgan. Fred Pilatus. Paul Swanson. Walter Swanson. Nancy Viahos. Otelia Werner.

They ranged in age from two to 84. The same age as my granddaughter and just a few years younger than my mom.

On this evening 50 years ago, the nine died in an F-5 tornado that ravaged the rural farming community of Tracy in my native southwestern Minnesota.

At 7:04 p.m. today, church bells will ring in Tracy, marking the precise time the twister, with wind speeds surpassing 300 mph, roared into town killing those nine residents, injuring 125 and desecrating the landscape.

 

A residential street, once covered in branches and debris, had to be plowed to allow vehicles to pass. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma, Tracy native and author of Out of the Blue, a book about the Tracy tornado.

 

All these decades later, the visual memories of that devastation still flash before my eyes in twisted, broken trees and piles of jumbled lumber, once homes. I was an impressionable almost 12-year-old when my dad drove our family 25 miles southwest from our farm to Tracy just days after the storm. You don’t forget a scene like that—such utter and chaotic destruction that a place no longer resembles a town. For that reason I’ve always feared and respected tornadoes.

I’ve written many times about the Tracy tornado. I’d encourage you to read those posts by clicking here.

 

Some of the injured at the Tracy Hospital. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma.

 

Tracy residents, current and former, remain committed to honoring the memories of those who died in the June 13, 1968, tornado. Last weekend the town held events to commemorate the 50th anniversary. That included tolling of the Lutheran church bell and the release of nine black balloons. A noted Twin Cities meteorologist and storm chaser came to town as did Scott Thoma, hometown boy who authored a book, Out of the Blue, about the tornado. Locals shared tornado stories in words and in photos posted on a memory wall. A Tornado Tree Memorial has long been in place. Selected 2018-2019 Tracy area high school graduates will receive scholarships given in the names of those who died. Monies from the sale of “Never Forget” t-shirts are funding those financial gifts.

Never Forget. Those two words have themed this 50th anniversary remembrance.

 

Surveying the destruction at Tracy Elementary School, which was destroyed. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma.

 

Down in Nashville, Tracy native and award-winning songwriter Dennis Morgan, penned, performed and recorded a song, “The Ballad of the Tracy Tornado, 50 Years Later.” Morgan was just 15 and cleaning a calf pen when he and his family spotted the twister from their farm west of town. They raced to get their father from a field where he was cultivating corn before sheltering in a neighbor’s basement. Morgan sent 300 copies of his ballad CD to his hometown with all sale proceeds designated for the Tracy Fire Department and Ambulance Service.

 

Eric Lantz, 16, of Walnut Grove, shot this award-winning photo of the Tracy tornado as it was leaving town. He often took photos for the Walnut Grove Tribune, owned by his uncle, Everett Lantz. This image by Eric was awarded third place in the 1968 National Newspaper Association contest for best news photo. This copyrighted photo is courtesy of Scott Thoma with the original copyright retained by Eric Lantz.

 

While researching this post, I also noted an iconic, award-winning tornado photo on the City of Tracy website. The image was taken by then 16-year-old Eric Lantz for the Walnut Grove Tribune. Today that photo takes me back to this small town on the prairie as, at 7:04 pm 50 years later, I schedule this post to publish. I shall never forget…

 

© Text copyright of Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Images copyrighted as noted.

 

From Faribault: I’ve had it with winter April 15, 2018

Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, photographed late Sunday afternoon as snow continued to fall in my southern Minnesota community. The storm began on Friday.

 

TO SAY THAT I’VE had it with winter in Minnesota would be an understatement. This weekend’s forever snowfall, which pushed us into the snowiest April on record, did it for me. I’ve officially had it with this endless cold and snow.

 

Light snow fell all day Sunday in Faribault as traffic drives here along Minnesota State Highway 60 in the downtown area.

 

I offer no apologies for my negative attitude. Because of this storm, I missed my granddaughter’s second birthday party. And, yes, that was enough to make me cry.

 

Thoughts of spring flash as I pass Farmer Seed and Nursery late Sunday afternoon. Spring planting seems a long ways off with about 14 inches of new snow on the ground.

 

How did I deal? I baked chocolate chip cookies and ate dark chocolate chips by the handfuls straight from the bag.

 

Mountains of snow edge parking lots at the Faribo West Mall.

 

That was after shoveling snow for the second time in less than 24 hours. Heavy, wet snow that took considerable heft to lift from the end of the driveway. Shoveling that left my back aching. It takes hours of effort to remove 12 – 14 inches of snow. Randy ran the snowblower. But there’s still a lot of shovel work. While I was shoveling snow, I should have been at Izzy’s birthday party, watching her open gifts and blow out two candles.

 

A side street just off Central Avenue in downtown Faribault remains partially snow covered.

 

Yes, I’m crabby. Maybe by tomorrow I’ll feel better.

 

The south end of Central Avenue as snow continues to fall late Sunday afternoon.

 

Maybe tomorrow the snow will stop and the sun will shine…before our next predicted snowfall arrives on Wednesday.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The view from Faribault during today’s major winter storm April 14, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:16 PM
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Approaching the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 60 and Division Street in Faribault around 10:30 a.m.

 

ROAD CLOSED. Difficult driving conditions. Travel not advised.

 

I ducked under a canopy to shoot this image in the heart of downtown Faribault late this morning.

 

It’s bad out there folks. Not that I’ve been anywhere except in the downtown area of Faribault today. But that was enough to show me that this major winter storm is exactly as predicted.

 

Driving along Second Avenue toward the intersection with Minnesota State Highway 60 in Faribault. Lots of folks were out this morning buying groceries and getting video rentals.

 

In the 1.5 hours I was out this morning, precipitation transitioned from light snow to heavy. You couldn’t see a block away with strong winds reducing visibility. I can only imagine the view in the open countryside.

 

That’s Fareway Foods, barely visible from across Minnesota State Highway 60 in Faribault.

 

Right now we’re in a lull. The weather looks deceptively calm. Just like it did this morning when I awakened, observed only a light layer of frozen precip on the ground and thought, “This is it, the big storm they were forecasting.”

 

Eastbound on Minnesota State Highway 60 in downtown Faribault shortly before noon.

 

Hours later I wasn’t thinking that as I braced into the wind-driven snow, head down, heading back to the van.

 

Passing by the Faribault Police Department, right, around 11:30 a.m.

 

I’m home now, about to stir up a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and later bake garlic rosemary focaccia. I’d rather be where I was supposed to be today—attending my granddaughter’s second birthday party an hour away. That’s been delayed. And to think, her California family flew in just for the party, only to find themselves in the midst of a major winter storm. Welcome to winter in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bracing for a strong winter storm in Minnesota April 13, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:21 AM
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A GALLON OF UNOPENED milk sits on the top shelf of the refrigerator. A full loaf of bread is tucked into a kitchen drawer. We are ready. Milk. And bread. Two staples.

Randy and I joke about having milk and bread on hand whenever a major winter storm is forecast for Minnesota. And one is for today in to Saturday with blizzard warnings issued for the western part of the state and a winter storm warning for much of southern Minnesota, including the Twin Cities metro.

I’ve heard forecasts of up to a foot of snow in my area. Heavy. Wet. Preceded by rain (already falling), sleet/freezing rain and then snow. Up to an inch of snow an hour. Plus strong winds.

Already people and organizations are rescheduling events like the Echo Fire Relief Association Pork Chop Dinner, the Women’s Cannon River Conference Spring Gathering, a Redwood Senior Dining Potluck…

Saturday will be a good day to hunker down at home and stay off roads. Travel is expected to be difficult, especially on my native prairie where up to 18 inches of snow combined with winds of 40 – 50 mph will create blizzard white-out conditions. Fail to respect those weather conditions and you could find yourself in major trouble if stranded in the countryside. I expect snow gates will be lowered to keep drivers safe and off highways.

Several times in recent weeks, predicted snowfalls have not materialized. But we shouldn’t chance that the weather forecasters are crying wolf. Time will tell…

Be safe, my friends, if you live anywhere in the path of this winter storm.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

This is April in southern Minnesota April 3, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:16 PM
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The snowy scene in my southeastern Minnesota neighborhood Tuesday afternoon.

 

LIVING IN MINNESOTA, I find that winters sometimes get long. Too long. This has been one of them with unseasonably cold temps—try 15 degrees in my part of the state on Easter morning—and now more snow.

 

Snow falls thick and heavy in my Faribault backyard.

 

Heavy, wet snow. Snow globe snow. Beautiful, yet the kind of snow that can slick roadways if it sticks to the surface.

 

Aiming my camera lens upward, I see snow flying against a grey sky bordered by bare branches. Note: I edited this image to make it more visually appealing.

 

The kind of snow, too, that is termed heart attack snow. No explanation needed on that one.

I am wishing for spring. For no more snow. For 50 degrees. Heck, I’ll even take forty.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling