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Weekend storms bring power outages, damaged houses across lakes area

Baseball-sized hail fell in Aitkin, as photographed here by Christina Harmon of Aitkin. Submitted photo

Nearly 1,000 power outages plagued the lakes area Friday, Aug. 31, as storms with severe wind and hail knocked down trees and damaged houses.

The National Weather Service in Duluth reported Aitkin and northern Crow Wing counties as taking the brunt of the storm, with baseball-sized hail—about 2 3/4 inches—hitting near the city of Aitkin.

"There was some hail in Crow Wing, but it wasn't as large as that hail I mentioned in Aitkin," NWS meteorologist Bill Leatham said Sunday, Sept. 2, noting reports of penny-sized hail near Breezy Point. "Mostly it was lots of trees down that knocked down power lines."

According to initial reports from the emergency dispatch scanner, the Pequot Lakes Fire Department responded to a house struck by lightning near County Highway 16. Also reported was a large downed tree on Highway 169, just north of Highway 210. Scanner traffic also indicated storm damage resulted in a roof collapse of a house on Burgstaler Road, on the Aitkin/Crow Wing County line—an incident reportedly trapping people inside for a time and resulting in an 80-year-old man suffering an injured leg.

Aitkin County Sheriff's Sgt. Dan Guida reported about 30 houses in the county sustaining storm damage.

In Crow Wing County, crews worked diligently Friday night to restore the 972 Crow Wing Power customers out of power in the cooperative's coverage area spanning south from Remer to Royalton and east from Motley to Crosby.

"There were half tree-related, trees coming down on lines, knocking the power out, a quarter of them lightning, and then some wind and hail," Char Kinzer, Crow Wing Power public relations manager, said of the outages, mostly coming after 7 p.m. Friday. "We just look at this as a very wet, rainy weekend, where dead branches—or weak branches—start to get too saturated and are easily downed."

Kinzer said most customers had power again by Saturday morning, thanks to hardworking repairmen.

"These guys are amazingly dedicated. They get a call, they go to work, and then they work all night," she said.

But this storm, Kinzer noted, didn't cause nearly as many problems as it could have just a few years ago.

"A good thing to note is that seven to 10 years ago, this would have been much more outages because we are very aggressive on our right of way clearing," she said, explaining how many residents specifically ask for trees near their power lines to be cleared.

Despite the destructive winds and giant hail, Leatham said the weekend's rainfall wasn't extreme. The highest amount observed, he said, was an estimated 4 inches near Crosslake.

"But even though they had 4 inches of rainfall, there was really no flooding reported," he said. "In general, besides the 4-inch report, most places it looks like it was anywhere from 1 to 2 inches of rainfall just because the storms were moving through so quickly."

The next chance for showers and storms is Monday night through Wednesday, Leatham said Sunday afternoon, predicting only about a quarter-inch to a half-inch of rain in the lakes area.

"You can't rule out strong, severe storms, but it's not looking as likely up in our neck of the woods," he said. "It looks like, as of right now, it's more likely down in the Twin Cities area. But with that said, that could change over the next day or two."

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