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UPDATED 7:30 p.m.: No damage reported from afternoon's tornadoes

Residents of the northern Red River Valley took cover Wednesday afternoon as tornadoes whipped across rural areas in Grand Forks and Traill counties.

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Residents of the northern Red River Valley took cover Wednesday afternoon as tornadoes whipped across rural areas in Grand Forks and Traill counties.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning about 1 p.m., around the same time a tornado was spotted near Hatton, N.D., about 26 miles southwest of Grand Forks. That warning was extended into the afternoon as a line of storms blew east through the Red River Valley, brewing funnel clouds that touched down to form "probably four or five" tornadoes across northeast North Dakota, according to weather service meteorologist Bill Barrett.

Barrett said the tornadoes were mostly “short-lived” and were probably joined by several additional funnel clouds which never made contact with the ground. Despite the number of tornadoes and the intensity of the surrounding storms, the weather service had no reports by the early evening of damage caused by the twisters.

“Only one person called in, but they were reporting no damage, so it was kind of a negative report,” Barrett said.

Jesse Bye, a farmer with crops near Hatton, was spraying his fields when one of the more visually striking tornadoes began to make its way through a cornfield about a mile from his land.

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Bye made his way over to watch and record video of the cloud as it ripped across the acreage, pulling up dirt and seed into its darkening funnel. He said he didn’t even realize he was watching a tornado, even as it spun past him at a distance of about 100 yards.

“I thought it was just a whirlwind coming across the countryside,” Bye said. “It was black, but I didn’t think it was a tornado at the time. It kept going away from me and it was sunny on the backside, so I felt it was safe.”

The footage Bye recorded was later published by several news outlets, including the Herald, and found its way into national broadcasts. He said the tornado he witnessed “didn’t really do any damage” and expressed gratitude that the funnel had touched down on open land.

The tornado in the cornfield was indicative of a pattern that the other storms followed. A combination of wind and rain might take a toll on some of the region’s planted fields, but in terms of damage to buildings or other personal property, Barrett said “we don’t have anything like that now.”

“As of this moment, it seems most of these were in areas that were kind of wide open and didn’t touch on any structures, but we’ll see ultimately as time goes on,” he said.

Tom Grafenauer, a fellow meteorologist with the weather service, said the office had reports of tornadoes "coming in fast and furious" as the storms carried funnel clouds and dumped rain on some parts of northeast North Dakota.

Those reports placed tornadoes north of Mayville between Hatton and Reynolds, N.D., as well as about 7 miles southwest of the Grand Forks International Airport. The weather service tornado warning was expanded after its initial release to draw in a wider area, including Gilby and Mekinock, both in Grand Forks County, as well as the Walsh County town of Ardoch, N.D., and its neighboring town of Oslo, Minn.

The weather service also pushed the initial timeframe of its warning later into the afternoon as slow-moving storms continued in the area.

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Grafenauer said in the early afternoon that conditions were “favorable for funnels on any storm that develops.”

“Wherever those storms are, tornadoes are possible," he said.

Parts of northern Grand Forks County faced a deluge of rain along with the threat of high winds.

Mike Bethel, city auditor for Gilby, said the town was soaked with about 2.5 inches that “came down quick” with a side of light hail.

Gilby Mayor Robert McLean said he spoke with a farmer who had spotted a tornado touching down to the west of town. McLean said it “got pretty dark here” for a while and that the land has yet to dry out. But otherwise he said the weather took a turn for the better once the rain moved on, a point that Bethel agreed with.

Aside from the puddles and the rushing culverts, he said Gilby was “all sunshine and you’d think nothing would have happened now.”

The tornado warning expired at about 2:45 p.m. and gave way to a downgraded tornado watch as storms moved on into northwest Minnesota.

Previously, the service had forecast isolated severe thunderstorms across the northern Red River Valley from the Canadian to the South Dakota border this afternoon. Weather forecasters predict the relative tranquility of Wednesday evening could last for at least the next few days.

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Related Topics: WEATHERRED RIVER VALLEY
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