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Six tornadoes struck the region Monday

Monday's stormy weather produced at least six distinct tornados, including one with a nearly continuous 18-mile track that hit parts of Belcourt and Rolla, N.D., according to the National Weather Service.

Monday's stormy weather produced at least six distinct tornados, including one with a nearly continuous 18-mile track that hit parts of Belcourt and Rolla, N.D., according to the National Weather Service.

Survey teams from the weather service's Bismarck and Grand Forks offices and from Environment Canada made the determinations.

The strongest documented storm was a so-called EF-3 tornado that struck the north side of Rolla in northeast Rolette County. This tornado had estimated winds of 140 mph, the Bismarck weather office reported.

Rolette County is the northeastern-most county in the Bismarck weather service district.

The Rolette touchdown was part of a nearly continuous tornado storm path of about 21 total miles in Rolette and Towner counties, with a maximum "footprint," or width, of about 250 yards, according to weather service reports.

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"There's no point along that path where there was not damage," said Greg Gust, warning coordination meteorologist for the national weather service's Grand Forks office. Gust made aerial observations of the storms for the survey work.

For comparison, the Park Rapids, Minn., area tornado last month was rated an

EF-3, but with winds as high as 160 mph and a maximum path width of about 450 yards, Gust said Friday.

He said the Rolette County tornado in the Turtle Mountains area occurred in more forested country that probably obscured some eyewitnesses' views of the storm's actual footprint.

"A tornado is a rotating column of air," Gust said. "You can have a relatively narrow funnel and have a wide surface footprint."

Four eastern North Dakota tornado "events" Monday include the continuation of the Rolette County tornado west into Towner County, which is in the weather service's Grand Forks district and will be counted for records as Monday's seventh tornado.

Monday's multiple tornadoes came "right in the heart of our severe weather season," Gust said. "It's not an uncommon occurrence. Typically, every year, we're going to have a couple of different days -- what we call 'outbreaks' -- that we have multiple tornadoes."

He cited Aug. 26 last year as an outbreak day. It produced, among others, the

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EF-4 tornado that struck Northwood, N.D., killed one man and caused extensive destruction.

A typical year will produce, on average, about 30 confirmed tornadoes in an area from central North Dakota east into northwest Minnesota, Gust said.

The national weather service uses the Enhanced Fujita (EF) tornado rating scale, named for its originator, Theodore Fujita. It rates a tornado's intensity on a

0-to-5 scale by examining damage caused to human-made structures, and then by more specifically determining the degree of damage. It does not rate wind, but the weather service rating includes the type of winds that would produce such damage.

Rolette County

According to weather service and news reports:

The Monday storm system that produced the northern Rolette County tornadoes actually started just north of the U.S.-Canada border in the Lake Metigoshe area. A touchdown confirmed there by Environment Canada happened about 2:25 p.m. and damaged some trees, personal property and homes. Most of Lake Metigoshe is in Bottineau County.

The storm system moved east-southeast to about 7 miles north of Dunseith, N.D., where an isolated tornado touched down about 2:45 p.m. and caused minor damage to a home.

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The storm continued tracking east-southeast into the Turtle Mountain Reservation, near Bureau of Indian Affairs Highway 8 and toward Belcourt, before making impact to start an 18-mile Towner County journey about 2:50 p.m. For the next 20 minutes or so, the weather service determined, tree and structural damage matched EF-1 and EF-2 ratings in a footprint between 50 to 75 yards wide and with wind speeds ranging from 85 to 130 mph.

North and northeast of Belcourt, the weather service confirmed a tornado footprint of about 250 yards with significant widespread tree damage. This EF-2 tornado probably produced winds of 110 to 130 mph.

Estimated wind speeds of as high as 135 mph were produced by an EF-2 tornado that caused serious damage to a home northeast of Belcourt about 3:15 p.m. Martin A. Peltier, 44, was seriously injured when the home's basement wall collapsed on him, crushing his pelvis.

The Belcourt touchdowns resulted in six structures destroyed and 28 others damaged, Turtle Mountain officials determined.

The storm system continued east, reaching the north side of Rolla about 3:30 p.m. as the EF-3-rated tornado produced winds as high as 140 mph., according to the national weather service office in Bismarck. Two minor injuries occurred during this touchdown, but emergency officials determined 12 homes were destroyed and more damaged.

Continuing east-southeast of Rolla, the tornado -- now an EF2 with winds as high as 125 mph -- hit a farmstead, causing some structural and tree damage.

The tornado crossed Highway 281 before pushing southeast in Towner County, just south of state Highway 5, about 3:45 p.m. It continued for about three more miles, mainly over open fields, leaving some field markings and downed trees that indicated an EF-1 tornado with winds of 90 mph.

Other tornadoes

A separate thunderstorm produced an intermittent 11-mile tornado track that started at 4:11 p.m. Monday in Towner County about 10 miles southeast of Rocklake, N.D., the weather service reported. This up-and-down tornado continued nearly due east into Cavalier County, to about one mile northeast of Munich, about 6:25 p.m. It had winds of 100 mph and was rated an EF-1 tornado. The weather service located only spotty damage from this storm.

In Walsh County, the weather service said, two distinct thunderstorms produced multiple funnels -- one of them a brief tornado touchdown about three miles northwest of Lankin, from 6:19 to 6:25 p.m. Monday, that pulled dirt well up into the main cloud. No damage was apparent other than some field markings consistent with an EF-0 rating and indicating winds of 70 mph.

Farther south, in Steele County, an eyewitness report suggested a brief tornado touchdown about four miles north of Finley about 5:30 p.m. Monday. It was rated an EF-0 tornado, indicating winds of 65 mph. It was part of a "fairly persistent funnel," viewed by trained weather spotters from multiple directions, that moved eastward between Finley and Sharon, according to the weather service.

In all, the National Weather Service issued 15 tornado warnings Monday, covering 13 counties in North Dakota and two -- Kittson and Marshall counties -- in northwestern Minnesota.

Five of eight tornado warnings issued by the NWS Grand Forks office resulted in confirmed tornado touchdowns, Gust said. In the others, Doppler radar indicated rotation within thunderstorms that possible indicate tornadic activity, or trained weather spotters "were seeing something" at the time, he said.

Hail and rain accompanied some tornadic storm systems, which sometimes makes it difficult to verify a weaker tornado during and after the fact, Gust said. Visual verification sometimes can be obscured by shelterbelts, too.

Brue is projects editor of the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1267; (800) 477-6572, ext. 267; or send e-mail to mbrue@gfherald.com .

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