Storms pummel southern Minnesota, leave significant damage

September 21, 2018

Heavy rains poured down, floodwaters rose, and strong winds and possible tornadoes left a trail of damage across the Twin Cities and a large swath of southern Minnesota Thursday night.

Several homes and businesses were damaged by ferocious winds in Cannon Falls, where downed trees and power lines blocked streets and school was canceled Friday.

“We’re used to snow days but let’s hope we never have to use a tornado day again,” a posting on the Cannon Falls School District Facebook page said. “If you have kids that can help family, friends and neighbors clean up, we can show our community pride.”

School was also called off in Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, Faribault and Northfield due to heavy storm damage in those communities. Classes started 2 hours late in Medford.

As many as five tornadoes were reported across southern Minnesota, including near Granada, Waterville, Medford, Northfield and just south of Randolph. Twisters or strong winds destroyed the Red Barn Pizza Place in Northfield and caused significant damage at the Stanton Airport 4 miles south of Randolph in Goodhue County, according to National Weather Service storm reports.

The airport in Faribault sustained heavy damage with hangars leveled and planes flipped. The airport remained closed Friday morning. Police also reported many downed trees and power lines, structure damage and small electrical fires.

“The damage is substantial and city crews are doing their best to open streets, remove debris and keep everyone safe,” city officials said.

The National Weather Service said it was sending out several survey teams to determine the location and strength of the reported tornadoes. In parts of southeastern Minnesota, up to 4 inches of rain fell in a short period, according to the weather service. It also said it could take “several days” to verify rain totals and storm reports.

Thursday, Minneapolis-St. Paul recorded a daily record rainfall of 3.28 inches, beating the old mark of 1.82 inches from 1902, the National Weather Service said.

Copious rains pushed the Minnesota River out of its banks near Henderson, prompting the Minnesota Department of Transportation on Friday morning to close Hwy. 93 between the city and Hwy. 169.

Damage also was reported in western Wisconsin as storms rolled along a line from Mankato to Red Wing and into the Badger state. In Spring Valley, the middle and high school building “received significant damage,” said principal Gretchen Cipriano in a message posted on the school district website.

“Because of the extent of the damage, classes at the middle-high school are canceled,” she wrote. “The property is off limits to everyone other than employees and designated contractors.”

South of the Twin Cities, a Rice County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher said the damage across the county had been “significant.”

“Big trees down, damages to propane tanks, damage to homes, minor injuries,” he said.

Several small planes parked at the Faribault Municipal Airport were tossed around by high winds, he said. In the tiny town of Morristown, a curfew was put into effect until 6:30 a.m. Friday, with no one allowed outside their homes and only residents allowed to enter town.

In Mankato, winds gusted as high as 70 miles per hour. In Red Wing, winds topped 63 miles per hour and Waseca recorded a gust of 61 miles per hour, the National Weather Service said.

Benjamin Percy, a writer who lives in Northfield, posted on his Facebook page that his neighborhood was “trashed” by an apparent tornado.

“Countless trees [are] down, including one that impaled our roof,” he wrote. “No power. Two days of chainsawing ahead of us. Hope my fellow Northfielders are all right.”

In neighboring Goodhue County, first responders cautioned motorists to avoid the town of Cannon Falls entirely because of downed power lines.

Martin County, in far south-central Minnesota, also reported significant storm damage Thursday night. Homes were surrounded by debris in tiny towns like Granada, where all roads were closed for 24 hours except to local traffic. A makeshift shelter in the school gym welcomed displaced residents, and the Red Cross handed out supplies. Homeowners in nearby Fairmont were warned to brace for extended power outages.

In the Twin Cities metro area, heavy rain fell throughout the afternoon and evening, slowing traffic to a crawl and flooding streets.

Residents posted photos on social media of families wading and canoeing on streets, including the intersection of 39th Street and Longfellow Avenue S., near Sibley Park.

In the northwest metro, traffic was slow on Hwy. 100 due to huge puddles, and the ramp from southbound 100 to County Road 81 was closed. Lake Drive, which cuts east-west through Robbinsdale, was heavily flooded.

Xcel Energy reported many power failures across the Twin Cities and in the storm-struck towns to the south.

The heavy rain hit the north metro and beyond, too.

In Chisago County, flooding closed Hwy. 95 at Chisago Street, among other roads in Taylors Falls, according to the Sheriff’s Office and MnDOT.

Clouds and storms are expected to clear out Friday, with clear skies and cool temperatures moving in. After a windy high of 56 degrees Friday, Saturday looks to be sunny with a high of 64 degrees. The Sunday forecast calls for a high temperature of nearly 70 degrees.

The next chance of rain comes Monday, along with a forecast high temperature of 71 degrees, the Weather Service said.

Staff writers Liz Sawyer and Karen Zamora contributed to this report.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768

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