Strong autumn storm leave path of destruction in northeast Minnesota
DULUTH—Residents and tourists slowly made their way around pieces of the Lake Superior Lakewalk strewn around the Duluth shoreline Thursday, Oct. 11, as they gawked at the damage done by Wednesday's storm.
A group of tourists stopped to read informational signs about Lake Superior as they walked on rocks pushed onto the Lakewalk by the waves. All along the way, people were making comments about how sad it was to see the damage and how powerful the storm had to be to cause it.
Lake Superior's raw power wasn't what Twin Cities resident Irene Yaeck expected to see when she planned a trip to Duluth.
"We have a wedding in McGregor and that's why we decided to come a few days early up here, expecting to see colorful leaves," Yaeck said.
She walked from her hotel to the Aerial Lift Bridge to get as close as she safely could to watch the storm on Wednesday, she said, explaining, "The winds were incredible." After seeing the damage in Canal Park on Thursday morning, she was planning to head to Gooseberry Falls, where she heard the waterfalls are rushing after all the recent rain.
Betty Larson and her husband decided to stop in Duluth while driving from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to their home in Fosston, Minn. After seeing the storm taking shape, they switched their hotel accommodations Wednesday to a Canal Park hotel facing the lake to watch the storm thrash the shoreline, providing the grand finale to their fall colors vacation.
"We always talked about wanting to be in Duluth and watch waves, but this was pretty epic," she said. "Amazing, absolutely amazing. It was Mother Nature at her fury."
In Canal Park, sections of the Lakewalk's boards were missing, nowhere to be seen on the ground nearby, and large rocks piled up where the boards once provided a path. Concrete that supported the Lakewalk was crumpled into pieces, the rebar that once held it together twisted and bent. The ground underneath the paved path was hollowed out. Underground wiring running to lamp posts was exposed and the PVC piping that encased the wiring was broken off in places. A sign attached to a lamp post survived Wednesday's storm, announcing that a restoration project was set to begin this fall to fix the damage caused by a nearly identical storm that blew through Canal Park in October 2017. Two large pine trees laid on top of overturned garbage cans and Lakewalk boards were half-buried in rock debris at the Hampton Inn. Next to the lighthouse parking lot, a bench had been tossed on the ground and partially buried in rocks, one of its legs completely ripped off.
Snowflakes fell as city crews walked along the Lakewalk to survey the damage Thursday morning. One commented, "That was a bench," as they walked past a piece of concrete with four pieces of metal still attached where the bench legs had been. The rest of the bench was nowhere to be seen.
In a statement Thursday night, the city of Duluth said preliminary assessment of the damage was complete, but additional assessments were underway. The city and St. Louis County are expected to make an emergency state aid request
A cost estimate is expected early next week, the city said.
The city said several areas are closed due to damage.
The strongest wind gusts measured on Wednesday came from freighters anchored on Lake Superior. The Canadian freighter Assiniboine, anchored just off Duluth, reported two minutes of sustained wind at 64 mph at 8:50 a.m. Wednesday and the Canadian freighter Algowood, anchored southeast of Castle Danger on the North Shore, measured a gust at 86 mph at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
Other wind gusts measured on Wednesday included 55 mph just east of Duluth at 3:29 a.m., 54 mph at Devil's Island in the Apostle Islands at 4 a.m., 52 mph at Glensheen Mansion at 5:14 a.m. and 46 mph at the Duluth International Airport at 6:36 a.m., according to the Weather Service.
Rain in Duluth totaled 0.93 inches on Tuesday and 0.99 inches on Wednesday, in addition to an inch of snow. So far in October, Duluth has received 3.51 inches of precipitation — which is 2.43 inches above normal at this point in October, said Steve Gohde, the Weather Service's observing team leader.
Snow was the "parting shot" on the back end of the storm, Gohde said.
The storm on Wednesday also backed up shipping traffic on the lake, as the gale-force winds sent scores of ships ducking into safe harbor, said Duluth Seaway Port Authority spokesperson Adele Yorde.
"They all took shelter somewhere and anchored to wait out the high winds," she said Thursday morning. "Even now you look at the marine traffic (online) and see nobody coming across the lake; everybody is coming up and around. They're following the shorelines."
Between the Twin Ports, Two Harbors and Silver Bay, there were 20 ships scheduled to arrive between Friday and Monday, according to the website Harbor Lookout. Each of the docks has its own loading schedule, so the ships may have to fall in line and wait their turns, Yorde said. The ships were almost exclusively coming for taconite iron ore, with a few needing coal and some carrying in limestone."
Farther north, storm damage was mostly cleaned up in downtown Grand Marais on Thursday morning, except for standing water in the Cook County Whole Foods Co-op parking lot and water drying out in the basement of the Cook County Historical Museum, according to Valerie Marasco, emergency management director for the county.
About four blocks flooded in downtown Grand Marais on Wednesday, closing two streets and the businesses on them due to the gales, high waves and heavy rain, Marasco said. Beach debris and rocks were pushed into the streets in downtown Grand Marais and into the parking lot of Artist Point Park near the U.S. Coast Guard Station.
Reporters Lisa Kaczke, Brady Slater and Jimmy Lovrien and Shelley Nelson contributed to this report