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Severe storms spawn tornado warnings, softball-size hail

BRAINERD, Minn. -- A line of powerful thunderstorms roared across central Minnesota Sunday night, with numerous reports of hail -- some as large as a softball -- and sightings of funnel clouds.

Downed trees trapped people in their homes and caused minor injuries.

John Bowen, emergency management director, said there were a couple of minor injuries and calls for trapped residents. He said it appeared the Nokay Lake and Placid Lake area in eastern Crow Wing County were the hardest hit with downed trees and damaged property. There may be additional areas east of Highway 6.

Bowen said they’ll work with the National Weather Service Monday to get the scope of the impact area and to determine if the damage is from a tornado.

Early warning

Warning sirens gave residents in Crow Wing County time to seek shelter. Bowen said the sirens went off about 25 minutes before the storm entered Crow Wing County. There were reports of a funnel cloud out of Cass County. The sirens ran repeatedly before the storm actually hit.

“They were sounding the sirens pretty much countywide because there was a pretty big swath in the warning,” Bowen said.

Bowen said every storm is different and, in this case, they were able to get the warning out early and give people as much notice as possible on a day with a high possibility of severe weather. The National Weather Service in Duluth issued a tornado warning at 6:20 p.m. for southern Cass, Crow Wing and Wadena counties.

A NWS report said sheriff’s deputies sighted a tornado at 6:30 p.m. 8 miles north-northeast of Staples. At 6:54 p.m., a funnel cloud was sighted 3 miles south of Nisswa, and another was sighted at 7:07 p.m. near Crosby.

Golf ball, baseball and tennis ball sized hail was reported in Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point, Lake Shore, East Gull Lake. The storm came with torrential rain.

The NWS confirmed reports of large hail with 2.75 inch hail (baseball size) sighted 4 miles south of Breezy Point by a spotter at 6:47 p.m., and 4-inch hail (softball size) was sighted 4 miles northeast of Nisswa at 6:50 p.m. by a spotter who also estimated 70 mph winds.

At 7:11 pm., law enforcement reported a large tree fell on a home 6 miles southeast of Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, where residents were trapped and needed to be extricated. The residents sustained minor injuries.

Carol Christenson, NWS warning coordination meteorologist, said the storms extended from as far north as the Canadian border, sparked when hot and muggy weather was disrupted by the sudden appearance of a cold front.

Fast-building storm

On the day before summer officially began, the lakes area was treated to a Sunday and Father’s Day with sunny skies and breezy conditions. People were enjoying the Cuyuna rec area on mountain bikes, at picnic tables and on paddle boards. By mid-afternoon the wind was notably stronger and clouds began rolling in.

Bowen said it was a classic day in terms of storm development and the National Weather Service predicted strong and potentially severe weather late Sunday afternoon and night.

“They knew it was going to develop and it developed really quick,” Bowen said.

The storms developed over Wadena and Todd counties and by the time they got to the Brainerd area, they were large, Bowen said.

Golf ball-sized hail was reported in Breezy Point. Bowen said he received a report of tennis ball-sized hail from the Grand View area in Nisswa.  

“This is the largest I’ve seen up here ever,” Bowen said.

There were also reports of damage in the Leader area in addition to the trees and powerlines down in around Crosby. A lot of trees were reported down in the Trommald area.

Deerwood Mayor Mike Aulie said the city’s fire department responded to a mobile home south of the city where a tree went through a mobile home pinning the residents, two parents and a child, inside. In Deerwood, there were downed trees and downed power lines. Heavy rain caused minor street flooding.

“I’d say we basically got pretty lucky,” Aulie said.

Aulie said the firefighters were also helping where roads were impassable. Some of the hardest hit areas appeared to be in the Nokay Lake Road and Placid Lake area. Aulie said the southbound lane of Highway 6 was blocked. Aulie said a steady stream of ambulances and emergency vehicles were traveling to the Placid Lake area. Placid Lake is between Nokay Lake Road and Highway 6, northeast of Bay Lake. Police scanner reports indicated there may be more than one home in the Placid Lake area that was storm damaged and no longer structurally sound. There were scanner reports of an older woman rescued from a damaged home and so inaccessible because of fallen trees, calls were made to extricate her by boat.

Minnesota Power reported 1,745 customers were without power as of 7 p.m. Sunday night, affecting a large swath of customers in Ironton, Crosby, Trommald, Cuyuna and Deerwood. The outage area stretched from Highway 6 at Bay Lake north to Rabbit Lake. In addition, 191 customers were without power in Riverton. Trees were reported down on Serpent Road along with multiple other locations. A couple of Minnesota Power customers were out of power north of Roy Lake and just off Highway 371. Crow Wing Power reported 18 outages affecting 185 customers, ranging from points south of Brainerd north to Nisswa and west to Placid Drive.

Chainsaws were active into the night.

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