Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The winds of December topple holiday trees December 6, 2021

The Holiday Tree Display in Faribault, late Sunday afternoon, when winds tipped trees. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

WICKED WINDS SWEEPING from the northwest into Faribault Sunday afternoon into Monday brought more than cold temps. The strong winds also toppled Christmas trees displayed in Central Park.

Tipped tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Fallen ornaments atop a Christmas tree skirt. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Fallen snowman tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Randy and I headed out to view the Holiday Tree Display, a project of the City of Faribault Parks and Recreation Department, after the Vikings game. When we pulled up, we observed numerous trees lying on the ground, ornaments littering the lawn, tree toppers askew.

A member of the Wunderlich family stands near the tree (left front) he and his sister donated. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
A cross tops the tree donated by the Wunderlich family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Tubes of sand anchor a tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Several tree sponsors arrived to deal with the unexpected damage. A Wunderlich family member who, along with his sister set up a tree honoring loved ones and community members who died of cancer, headed across the street to Ace Hardware for sandbags. I noticed sandbags anchoring several trees. And when two women came to upright their trees, Randy and I convinced them to let the trees lie given the prevailing winds.

Randy chats Sunday afternoon with a member of the Wunderlich family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Even though toppled onto the ground, this star topper still shines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
A particularly beautifully-decorated tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

When Randy drove by the holiday display Monday morning on his way to work, he reported more trees down with only perhaps 10 of the 34 still standing. Winds still blew, with the temp dipping into the single digits. It feels a lot like winter now. No snow here, though. But central and northern Minnesota got enough to create travel issues and necessitate late school starts.

Across the street, the beautiful, historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour provides a lovely backdrop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Ah, Minnesota. I expect next year precautions will be taken to keep those holiday trees standing straight.

An unusual tree sponsor name. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
So many beautiful ornaments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Grey against grey. A rustic star. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

This is only the second year of a project which spreads Christmas joy. All trees are sponsored and decorated by local businesses, organizations, civic groups, etc., and then donated to families/individuals without a tree. It’s a great idea, one which garnered the 2020 Minnesota Recreation and Park Association Award of Excellence for Faribault Parks and Rec.

In the grey of a December day, this red star brings light. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

I feel thankful to live in a community of generosity.

Found among the ornaments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021.)

None of us ever knows when strong winds will sweep into our lives and knock us down. None of us ever knows when we will need the kindness of others to uplift us, to help us stand, to support us. To give us hope. There is something to be learned from wicked winter winds. We need one another, even if sometimes we think we don’t.

Photographed Sunday afternoon. All trees have now been placed upright. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

FYI: The trees have now been placed upright and staked, and will be displayed until December 10.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


From sunshine to storm on Labor Day September 4, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:55 PM
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Looking to the north and the Minnesota River Valley just outside Delhi around 4 p.m. Monday.


TO THE NORTH, storm clouds bruised the sky late Labor Day afternoon.


To the east of Delhi heading toward Redwood Falls.


Brooding blue, then masses of grey before the rain gushed near New Ulm as we drove east from the southwestern Minnesota prairie toward home. The rainfall, while heavy at times, seemed nothing more than a September downpour.


Sky and corn define this area of Minnesota.


Well before we got to Mankato, the rain stopped.


The farther east we drove, the more ominous the clouds appeared.


Yet clouds continued to stack and I began to consider the possibility of severe weather as we entered Waseca, then Steele, counties. Randy switched on the radio to a local station but then turned it off when our son called from Boston. I ended the conversation as we reached Owatonna and exited U.S. Highway 14 onto Interstate 35.

Rounding the entrance ramp, Randy noticed a state highway patrol car and, then, a short distance later, another. By that time the rain had ramped. Wheels hydroplaned. And the wind blew so fierce the van rocked.

“I’m scared,” I said. “I want to get off the interstate.” Randy steered the van off the next exit, much to my relief. But I was still scared. I don’t like storms or strong winds like these of probably 50 mph. I’ve seen the damaging power of tornadoes and straight line winds and I respect them enough to fear them.


Just a few miles from Faribault on Rice County Road 45.


We drove through part of Owatonna, the wind still whipping trees. The short detour off I-35 proved enough to semi calm me before Randy directed the van out of town along a back county road. I wanted nothing more than to get home to Faribault. I’d had enough of the wind and the rain on an otherwise glorious September day in southern Minnesota.


TELL ME: Have you ever been caught on the roadway in a storm that scared you? I’d like to hear about your experiences.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Battling winter in Fargo February 5, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:02 AM
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A sign along a city street welcomes us to Fargo, North Dakota, from Moorhead, Minnesota, just across the Red River.

A sign along a city street welcomes visitors to Fargo, North Dakota, from Moorhead, Minnesota, just across the Red River.  I might change that “city of parks” to “The windy city.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA, is flat. That is a fact.

The wind blows in Fargo. A lot. That is a fact.

Therefore, one could rightly conclude that staying warm during winter in flat and windy Fargo would present a challenge, even to a hardy Minnesotan.

During a recent cold snap, with wind chill readings in the minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit in Fargo, I received this text from my son, who attends North Dakota State University:

This cheap Walmart hat stands zero chance against the Fargo wind.

OK, I am 300 miles away so it’s not like I can run out and buy my boy a new hat. I suggested he take the $20 I’d recently sent and purchase warmer head attire.

Apparently, though, my son did not need my motherly assistance. He’d already gone online the previous evening and ordered a “nice Russian military surplus hat.” Alright, that ought to work in Fargo.

But then he mentioned one minor issue, which may or may not be an issue:

Unfortunately it has the good ol’ USSR sickle and hammer on the front. I’m hoping that I will be able to remove that.

When I expressed my concern about the symbol, he fired back:

We aren’t in the cold war anymore…

Ah, yes, my son, but you are.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


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.


Text 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