While dire warnings of very dangerous weather Friday night with an expected second round of severe storms on Saturday kept Brainerd lakes area residents on edge, intense rainfall was not accompanied by the predicted widespread damaging winds.
Winds were muted compared to the potential straight-line wind event forecasters warned might materialize, but the severe summer storm Friday, July 17, certainly produced heavy and damaging rain. Saturday, meanwhile, saw storms stick largely to a northerly path with warm air in the region capping the storm’s ability to form vertically in the atmosphere, the National Weather Service in Duluth stated Sunday.
Friday’s storm caused tree damage throughout Cass County before losing some of its momentum headed into Crow Wing County.
“The storms moved in very, very quickly — much faster than a lot of the forecast models were predicting,” said Justin Schultz, a meterologist with the weather service. “That definitely had an impact on how they evolved as they tracked to the southeast. The storms kind of outran the better instability — all the fuel that the storms needed to really get energized from.”
The rainfall was impactful in the lakes area, however. The Brainerd Family YMCA reported it sustained significant damage from water and flooding throughout the entire facility from Friday night's storm. A ServPro vehicle, specializing in fire and water cleanup was parked outside the YMCA on Oak Street in Brainerd Saturday. The fitness center is closed for repairs until further notice.
Roughly between 10 p.m., when the storm arrived in earnest in the Brainerd area, and 4 a.m., the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport received 3.29 inches of rain. The downpour, sheets of rain from the north, was too much for storm drains to keep up with, flooding city streets. Some unsuspecting drivers who drove into the water, in north Brainerd and on Washington Street, were left with stalled cars.
About 11:30 p.m. residents along Juniper Street were out wading in knee-deep dark water on city streets checking storm drains and were unable to find obstructions. It was just too much rain, too fast. Streets illuminated by frequent lightning flashes resembled rivers with water lapping into yards and tiny whirlpools, the size of dinner plates, forming over storm drains.
At the Washington and Eighth Street intersection in Brainerd, police squad cars took up posts on either side in an attempt to slow traffic as water pooled in driving lanes. A stalled car sat in the Crow Wing Food Co-Op parking lot as the driver tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to start it.
With the flashing lights from the squad cars, vehicles slowed to navigate the water and stayed in the center lanes of the four-lane highway through the city. By midnight, the storm drains were able to catch up and the water on flooded streets receded.
The National Weather Service said the weekend storms spawned four tornadoes in east-central Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Two occurred early Saturday morning north of the Twin Cities, and two occurred Saturday night to the east of the metro. There were no reports of injuries.
Storm reports listed flooding as the main concern in the lakes area. Power lines were reported down in Hackensack and in Staples with wind damage taking down trees. In Menahga, winds were estimated to be 70-80 mph with damage reported to a building. Wind gusts east of Jenkins were reported at 47 mph. One-inch hail was reported in Verndale. Near Milaca, there were reports of several 800-pound hay bales blown around and farm equipment thrown around. Wind gusts of 62 mph were reported just as the storm blew in 5 miles east of Inguadona in Cass County.
Friday brought temperatures in the 90s and nearly 50% humidity. Saturday cleared to provide sun and blue skies in the morning, by afternoon the clouds returned and temperatures were again in the mid-80s. The dewpoint hovered in the early 70s in the late afternoon, when brief bouts of rain peppered the areas along the outskirts of a storm system that ultimately brought large hail to southern St. Louis County into western Wisconsin.
Areas of Minnesota from St. Cloud to the Twin Cities to the southern border were in heat advisories or excessive heat warnings again Saturday with hot and humid weather and heat indices up to 109.
Sunday, temperatures never exceeded 80 degrees and humidity was kept at bay. Looking ahead, the weather service reports the chance for periodic showers and thunderstorms Monday, but the probability of severe weather is low. Schultz said Tuesday brings a better chance for stormy weather.
While the U.S. Drought Monitor still reported portions of the area to be under severe to moderate drought conditions, those reports were based on conditions as of Tuesday, July 14. Since then, Friday’s significant rainfall made a positive dent in the drought, Schultz said. While Brainerd remains below average for precipitation for the calendar year by 2.5 inches, a rainy July is on pace to be well above normal. So far, the area is 3.15 inches above average for the month of July.
“And we still have a third of the month to go,” Schultz said. “The rainfall amount for this month has certainly helped the Brainerd area.”
Rainfall reports for Friday’s storm
5 inches 3 miles east of Brainerd,
5 inches in St. Mathias,
4.30 inches in Deerwood,
3.30 inches in East Gull Lake,
3.23 inches in Baxter, with other Baxter locations reporting 2.51 inches,
3 inches in Pine River,
3 inches in Jenkins,
2.80 inches in Pillager,
2.70 inches in Merrifield,
1.96 inches in Breezy Point.