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Strong winds down trees, damage buildings

Aitkin County Fairgrounds sustains heavy damage in what appear to be straight-line winds. Another round of potentially severe storms is in the forecast for Thursday, May 12

A snapped jack pine tree lies on the ground, the garage it slightly damaged is in the background.
Strong winds down a jack pine tree, grazing the garage, Wednesday, May 11, 2022, at Brian Andrews' home in Baxter.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BAXTER — Powerful wind gusts blew through the region Wednesday afternoon, May 11, toppling trees and flattening and damaging buildings.

The biggest damage was reported in Aitkin County where buildings at the fairgrounds were heavily damaged and a sheriff’s department storage building was destroyed.

“That was flattened,” said Mark Wedel, Aitkin County Board chair. Wedel said the building housed boats, four-wheelers and other vehicles. “I couldn’t believe it. It was literally flattened.”

Vehicles inside the building were also heavily damaged. Metal sheeting was blown into the crown of a tree.

Wedel met with Sheriff Dan Guida and others Wednesday evening as they assessed damages. Wedel said he had no reports of any injuries, which was lucky considering the power of what appeared to be straight line winds from the east.

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National Weather Service reports in Aitkin County from law enforcement noted: “Strong winds blew numerous trees down and ripped metal roofs off some structures in the Aitkin area. Local law enforcement also said the damage continued east through the county toward McGregor. Wind speed estimates were 70 mph.”

The reports came in between 4:40 p.m. and 5 p.m. A trained weather spotter in Aitkin reported a strong wind gust lofted a garbage can weighing about 70 pounds over 90-foot tall pine trees.

Wedel was in downtown Aitkin Wednesday afternoon when the wind gust blew through. Metal patio furniture was hurled into the air across Main Street near the Rialto Theatre. Wedel said the heavy damage was about three blocks away.

“It took a major toll at the fairgrounds with some of those buildings,” Wedel said, noting the Industrial Building and other display buildings were damaged. The buildings can be repaired, Wedel said, adding he was glad no one was reported injured at the fairgrounds or the sheriff’s building.

“It was a real surprise,” Wedel said of the wind gusts, which came with rain and a little thunder. “It was such a small cell, a small tract, but there was a lot of power in it.”

Wedel heard police scanner calls about trees and power lines down in the McGregor area. The National Weather Service in Duluth confirmed receiving multiple reports of downed trees and building damage, particularly at the Aitkin County Fairgrounds.

Noting the weather forecast for the potential for severe storms Thursday, Wedel said: “It sounds like we should sleep with one eye open for the next 24 hours.”

Light rain was recorded in the Brainerd lakes area in the early afternoon with breezy conditions varying throughout the day. But a dramatic change was captured by the weather station at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport as the wind shifted later in the afternoon.

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Wind gusts were measured at 48 mph just before 4 p.m.

The airport measured an east wind at 9 mph with a gust of 17 just before 3 p.m., which then increased to a wind of 24 mph with the 48 mph gust. By the next hour the wind shifted to the southwest at 10 mph with gusts up to 22 mph.

Storm damage was reported at one residence in Baxter where a jack pine tree was blown down about 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Some areas received heavy rain Wednesday afternoon. The weather service received a report .75 inches of rainfall within a half hour in Garrison.

The area had a mix of experiences. Temperatures reached a high of 72 just before noon at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport but dropped 13 degrees in the next hour to 59 degrees as clouds and light rain moved in. But the thermometer was back up to 65 degrees before 6 p.m. By Wednesday night, just after 8 p.m. there were flashes of lightning and deep growls of thunder in Brainerd as another storm cell moved through the area, later producing heavier rainfall.

The weather service forecast the possibility of scattered severe storms over Wednesday and Thursday across central Minnesota as storms moved throughout the state. A warm front was expected to lift to the north Wednesday night with severe storms expected to develop with the potential for large hail, damaging winds, tornadoes and flash flooding. In the region, the threat for tornadoes was highest for the southern portions of the northland. Strong storms were moving through the Twin Cities Wednesday night.

Round 2 may be stronger

“There will be two rounds of potentially severe thunderstorms over the next 48 hours, the first being this evening into tonight and the second being Thursday afternoon and evening,” the weather service reported Wednesday. “The storms on Thursday will likely be stronger and pose a greater tornado and damaging wind threat than tonight, especially along and south of a line from Brainerd to Hinckley. There may also be widely scattered thunderstorms in between the rounds of strong to severe storms tomorrow.”

And the unsettled weather is on top of an existing flood warning along the Mississippi River affecting Aitkin and Crow Wing counties. Minor flooding continues along the Mississippi in Aitkin. The flood warning was extended and now remains in effect until 7 a.m. May 17.

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HomeGoods would take the smaller of the two spaces in the renovated interior of the former big box store in Baxter.

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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