A half mile down the road from Boyd Bontjes’ home in Wyoming, Minn., corn stalks were standing tall. The same was true a half mile to the south.
But 25 to 30 maple and pine trees — some as big as 3 feet in diameter — on his property on Kettle River Boulevard were no match for the narrow band of ferocious winds that accompanied overnight storms that blasted portions of the north and east Twin Cities metro and western Wisconsin and left thousands without power.
Late Wednesday, the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities said some of that damage, 4 miles south of Forest Lake, was consistent with an EF-1 tornado.
“It just pulled them right out of the ground,” Bontjes said Wednesday morning as he surveyed the thicket of large branches that blocked his driveway and the road. He planted many of the felled trees 45 years ago. “Mother Nature has never been this mean to me.”
Scores of others in cities such as Forest Lake, Oak Grove, Columbia Heights, Spring Lake Park and Mounds View joined Bontjes in assessing the damage and began the daunting task of cleaning up.
Some, like Renee Feagan, of Forest Lake, were relieved that damage was limited to large limbs that snapped off large trees and dented a few cars, including hers.
“It was extremely loud then it got quiet. The house was shaking and branches were scrapping the roof. It was like impending doom,” said Feagan. “Everything missed the houses. I feel fortunate.”
Storms rolled into the north metro around 2:30 a.m. with heavy rain and winds clocked as high as 50 miles per hour in Coon Rapids and Hugo, the National Weather Service said. Two storms converged over Anoka County and moved east over Chisago and Washington counties before knocking down more trees and power lines in Polk and St. Croix counties in western Wisconsin, said Mike Griesinger, a meteorologist with the weather service in Chanhassen.
“It was like hitting those trees with a fire hose,” Griesinger said. “Trees started falling and took out whatever was in their way.”
Wednesday afternoon, the Weather Service sent out a damage survey team after new information was received, according to a tweet from the office in Chanhassen. “The isolated tornado was embedded in a storm that also produced strong straight line winds,” the Weather Service said.
A tree fell on an apartment building in Columbia Heights and traffic signals were out along Hwy. 61 in Forest Lake and Hugo, communities “inundated with downed power lines and trees.” a Washington County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher said.
Trees landed on homes and parked cars in Mounds View. In Anoka County, the public Works department used chain saws to clear roads blocked by trees and debris in Oak Grove and East Bethel, a dispatcher with the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office said.
More than 56,000 Xcel Energy customers in its service area lost power during the storm that moved across central Minnesota before striking the Twin Cities northern suburbs. More than 350 workers fanned out to restore electrical service, a utility spokesman said.
Back in Forest Lake, Amber Bement was still without power at 11:15 a.m. and big trees were still blocking streets in her neighborhood near Hermes Avenue and Hwy. 97. She lost four trees in her yard. Branches hit both of her vehicles and one limb broke a window on her house. The storm came through with such power that “my Great Danes were shaking uncontrollably” and climbed into bed with her.
Gas stations and the body shop in Wyoming where she took her car to get looked at were also without power at 11 a.m., she said.
The area around Bontjes’ home in the southwest corner of Wyoming in Chisago County was one of the hardest hit. Nearby a 75-foot pine tree was uprooted and blocked Kettle River Boulevard, the city’s police department said. Another tree exploded when it was hit by lightning while multiple power lines snapped in the south end of the city.
“I’m writing Mother Nature disorderly conducts for all this mess. So aggressive,” the department, known for its sense of humor, said in a tweet.
Bontjes, and his wife Judy, were sleeping when the storm hit. After it passed, Boyd took a flashlight and went outside to survey the damage.
“I could not see much, but police cars were parked at my driveway,” he said. “I could not go past my house due to power lines being down.”
By daylight, the severity of the damage was in full view, busted power poles and trees and branches everywhere.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said, noting that he’ll get his grandsons to help him clean up the mess. “It will take me most of the week. Nothing you can do about it. Good old Mother Nature.”
The Alexandria area also was hit hard as winds there gusted to 70 miles per hour, the strongest recorded with the storms, Griesinger said.
Storms have moved into Wisconsin and no hints of storms are in the metro forecast until Saturday, Griesinger said. But it will get hot again. After a cool 75 degrees forecast for Thursday, the mercury will soar near 90 degrees on Friday and upper 80s Saturday through Monday.