Severe weather stretched across the country and unleashed at least four tornadoes in Kansas.
The metro area endured its second hailstorm in five days Thursday, this one peppered with lightning strikes and heavy rain right at afternoon rush hour, plus a wide-ranging tornado watch and potential flooding overnight.
The outbreak was part of a larger weather system that brought severe weather along a path that stretched from Texas to Wisconsin. At least four tornadoes touched down in western and central Kansas, where residents had nervously braced for what National Weather Service forecasters called a potentially historic outbreak of tornadoes.
Weather anxiety is likely to continue rising in Minnesota and nearby states as such warnings clash with year-end school plans and set the insurance adjusters' phones ringing.
Thursday's storm, which dropped hail more than an inch in diameter from southwestern Minnesota to Plymouth and brought 65-mile-per-hour winds in places, came almost as predicted by nearly four days of warnings by the National Weather Service that severe weather was headed for a broad swath of the Great Plains.
Computer forecasting models for Thursday resembled those on June 8, 1974, when 39 tornadoes raked the southern Plains and killed 22 people.
The Weather Service on Tuesday had taken the unusual step of giving advance warning of a possible outbreak of "long-track" tornadoes based on the conditions.
The alerts sent storm chasers out across Midwest highways; the Twin Cities area's volunteer Skywarn network was activated at 3 p.m. Thursday as hailstorms approached.
In Kansas, tornadoes destroyed at least one home, damaged several buildings, toppled trees and power lines and allowed a pair of circus elephants to escape their enclosure and wander around the town of WaKeeney.
But no tornadoes struck Minnesota.
"So far today has been a relief," meteorologist Tony Zaleski said Thursday afternoon, as severe thunderstorm warnings across the metro area were being canceled. "It's not panned out to be the significant weather event we were expecting."
Rains good for crops
He did say the rains would be a welcome arrival for farmers, whose fields need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season.
However, flood and tornado alerts were expected to remain in effect across Minnesota through the night and into this morning. More thunderstorms are in the forecast at least through Tuesday.
The prospect of rain on a weekend jam-packed with graduation events prompted some party planners to make panicked last-minute calls to local tent rental companies.
"It's been pretty easy discussions with people: 'No, I don't have anything,'" said Brian DeRemer, a manager at Paul's Rental in Richfield, who said the business is booked for much of June, its busiest month, as well as Minnesota's stormiest.
Effects of the storms
Early Thursday evening, Hennepin County dispatchers had received no reports of serious hail damage, flooding or power outages.
At least three houses were struck by lighting late Thursday afternoon in Plymouth, but none suffered serious damage, said Plymouth police Sgt. Curtis Smith.
Lightning also wiped out the second day of a planned two-day, 36-hole high school golf tournament in Becker.
Flights at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport were delayed by an hour or more and the threatening weather prompted a Lifelink medical helicopter to make an emergency landing in a field at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis. Nobody was injured and there were no patients on board.
There was plenty of water, though. Windom recorded 3 inches of rain in an hour and 4 1/2 inches through the afternoon. The Weather Service recorded just over an inch of rain at the airport between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., much of that after 4 p.m.
Hail didn't appear to get past the northwest metro area, because the storm "outran its support" of warm, moist air once it got into cooler air to the north, Zaleski said.
The hail was the second hammering in the metro since Saturday, when vehicles, homes and gardens were damaged. Car dealers were especially hard-hit and have been offering discounts on damaged vehicles.
The threat of bad weather has caused some metro area schools to move graduation exercises indoors. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District rescheduled its "Spring Fling" at Grays Bay on Lake Minnetonka from Thursday to June 19.
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