Dangerous weather roars through region; area roads in tough shapeA severe storm system spawned several tornadoes and dropped heavy rain throughout the Red River Valley. Shelters opened and roads were deserted as people took refuge from the storm and quickly blacking skies. Much of the region was in a flash flood warning through this morning.
By: Herald Staff, Grand Forks Herald
THOMPSON, N.D. — There was supposed to be a street dance here Friday night. The barricades blocked off a section of Fourth Street, and a portable stage sat in the almost-empty parking lot of Brewski’s bar.
But the only sound to be heard was the sheets of rain pelting the pavement, the wind rushing through town and the wail of the tornado sirens.
In the gas station and the motorcycle shop, people ignored the warning and looking out the window in idle curiosity as they talked.
It was a scene played throughout the region as a severe storm system spawned several tornadoes and dropped heavy rain throughout the Red River Valley. Shelters opened, and roads were deserted as people took refuge from the storm and quickly blackening skies. Much of the region was in a flash flood warning through this morning.
Four miles northwest of Thompson, the National Weather Service in Grand Forks said golfball-size hail had fallen.
The line of severe thunderstorms was along a line extending from three miles south of Oslo, Minn., to Hillsboro, N.D.
Thompson seemed to have escaped with little damage, and reports of damage were spotty throughout the region. But Thompson’s party did go on — it was moved to inside Brewski’s.
In Grand Forks, the county fair was shut down, and the River Cities Speedway canceled all races. Grand Forks, too, seemed to have escaped with little damage, except for some standing water on the streets. A tour of the town Friday night found nothing out of the ordinary other than some debris here and there.
There were confirmed reports of tornadoes touching down in the area, according to the weather service.
Confirmed touchdowns in the region:
- 6:30 p.m.: Near Forest River, N.D.
- 6:47 p.m.: Two miles northwest of Larimore, N.D.
- 7:22 p.m.: One mile north of Manvel, N.D.
- 7:43 p.m.: Two miles west of Grand Forks, along U.S. Highway 2.
A funnel cloud was reported in Grand Forks near Interstate 29 and 32nd Avenue South at 7:22 p.m.
A tornado warning was in effect until 8:45 p.m. for eastern Grand Forks and northwest Polk Counties. The Grand Forks County warning was lifted, but remained in effect until 10 p.m. for much of Polk County and northwestern Norman County in Minnesota and eastern Traill County in North Dakota.
A severe thunderstorm, capable of producing tornadoes, was located about five miles south of Crookston moving to the east at 25 mph just after 9 p.m. A severe thunderstorm also was reported three miles southeast of Hillsboro, N.D.
Other unconfirmed reports of tornado touchdowns came in all evening, including the areas of Warsaw, Michigan, Park River and Caledonia, N.D.
The Nelson County Sheriff’s Department advised no travel because secondary roads were getting deluged with heavy rain. About 4½ to 6 inches of rain fell in 45 minutes near Whitman, N.D., according to residents. There also were reports of washed-out roads.
“We’ve got a lot of road problems, especially on secondary roads, with water on roadways,” Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Jahnke said.
County road crews were barricading roads, especially in the northeastern part of the county, in the Dahlen area, he said.
From 1:20 to 1:30 p.m. in Cavalier County, 10 miles northwest of Mountain, N.D., a funnel cloud swirled well above the ground before it lifted back into a cloud, the weather service said.
In Grand Forks, University Avenue from Columbia Road to 20th Street North was reported flooded, according to the weather service’s Web site. There was a report of a power outage in north Grand Forks about 9 p.m. because a tree fell on power lines.
Emergency shelters in Grand Forks were opened at Selke Hall on UND campus, Altru Hospital and the Civic Center and the VFW Arena in East Grand Forks. Grand Forks Emergency Management Director Jim Campbell said Altru’s shelter isn’t normally used, but was opened because of the severe threat.
About 8 p.m., I-29 travelers took refuge in two of Hillsboro’s two gas stations as black clouds and storms threatened from the northwest.
A couple dozen people, many from Grand Forks, crowded the Cenex station. About 45 vehicles could be seen in the parking lot. Many more pulled into the Tesoro station.
At the Cenex, Billie Kellar and her fiance, Brian Dorff, had fled Grand Forks an hour earlier. They had heard on a radio station about the tornado warnings. The couple, who live in a mobile home on the west side of town, own a dog and cats and didn't feel secure in the mobile home. So they piled Moose, their 160-pound English mastiff, and 15 cats, including several belonging to friends, into their 2003 Grand Prix and headed south. They arrived in Hillsboro about 8 p.m., when the emergency sirens sounded. They pulled into the store and told the clerk about the pets. The store clerk said to bring them in and take shelter. Within minutes, a dozen people with pets stood around the aisles of the store. About 9 p.m., officials urged people to leave the Cenex and seek shelter in the old Traill County Courthouse. About 35 people were using the courthouse for a shelter about 9:30 p.m. People in the shelter in contact with some semi-drivers said three trailers left Hillsboro heading north on I-29 about 9:30 p.m.
They radioed back that they could only travel about 40 mph because of water on the road. Another semi-trailer was reported in the ditch, apparently blown over by high winds.
In other parts of North Dakota, a tornado also was spotted seven miles southwest of Mandan moving east at 25 mph.
Thirty-two of North Dakota’s 53 counties were under a severe storm watch, plus Kittson, Marshall, Pennington and Polk counties of northwestern Minnesota.
Later, a tornado watch covered many of those counties.
The flash flood watch continues this morning in Benson, Cavalier, Eddy, Grand Forks, Nelson, Pembina, Ramsey, Towner and Walsh counties in North Dakota. In Minnesota, the watch includes the counties of Kittson, Norman, Marshall and Polk.