An unusual storm of whipping high winds toppled trees, split power lines, stalled jetliners and capsized boats across the Twin Cities on Saturday. And it was just the opening act to a weeklong wallop of wet weather.
So far, 2014 had been the fourth-wettest year on record for the Twin Cities. Then, Saturday ushered in several more inches of rain and high winds of up to 68 miles per hour at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“It felt almost like a tropical storm,” National Weather Service meteorologist Michelle Margraf said of the afternoon storm absent of any thunder or lightning. “Usually you don’t get winds like that out of showers.”
While wind gusts aren’t expected to ramp up that high again anytime soon, the Weather Service predicts another inch and a half of rain through midday Sunday and then more rainfall every day this week — totaling 5 inches of rain over the next seven days. That’s on top of an already wet season — the 14th-wettest spring on record — that has flooded beaches, swelled rivers and prompted speed restrictions on lakes like Lake Minnetonka.
“We need a dry period to help that out, and we’re not going to get it this week,” Margraf said. “We do not need any more rain.”
Lashed by wind
On Saturday, rain and high winds moved from Shakopee and other southwest suburbs up through Richfield, Edina and Minneapolis and then into St. Paul. Streets and yards were littered with large trees and branches. And flights in and out of the airport were delayed throughout the day.
The airport even grounded planes for a few minutes, forcing incoming flights to be diverted to other airports until the winds subsided.
“It was just long enough at a busy time of day to affect a few dozen flights,” airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said. “It doesn’t happen very often, especially in the summer.”
At the peak of the storm, an estimated 50,000 Xcel Energy customers across the Twin Cities were without power, prompting the company to bring in extra contractors to help repair downed lines. That wasn’t the end of it, however. The company said Saturday that even more customers could lose power through Sunday due to overnight thunderstorms.
Thunder and lightning late into Saturday halted activities and postponed games across the metro.
In Minneapolis, high winds closed all water parks, later canceled the annual Juneteenth Twin Cities festival and tossed boats along the shores of Lake Nokomis and Lake Harriet.
And on Lake Minnetonka, four sailboats competing in a regatta capsized Saturday morning while a half-dozen others were in distress.
About 10:30 a.m., calls about the boats began coming in to the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office followed by reports of capsizes, with people in the water, in Smiths Bay and Browns Bay near Orono, spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said. Wind gusts exceeded 50 miles per hour, she added, and there were whitecaps on big waves.
Four people had to be pulled from the water by emergency responders in boats and others made it to shore on their own, Johnson said. One man was checked at the scene for possible hypothermia, but he was not taken to a hospital.
No other major injuries or fatalities were reported during the storm.
Cleaning up trees
In south Minneapolis, teams of arborists who had started the day working on finishing the city’s spring tree planting instead spent most of the day clearing 70 downed trees, including four trees that hit homes.
One of those homes was Vicki Wiltgen’s house near Lake Nokomis. Just before noon, she heard a big boom that shook her 1950s-era home.
“I thought ‘I don’t think that’s thunder or lightning,” she said before walking outside to find a large oak tree resting on her roof.
The fallen tree crushed part of the fireplace and tore vents and shingles off her house, but it couldn’t be removed right away because the tree was tangled in electric wires.
Farther west, off Nicollet Avenue, Junetta Erickson was luckier — an old 60-foot spruce tree uprooted in her front yard but missed her house and sidewalk.
“That’s a biggie; the winds had to be big to take that tree out,” she said. “It’s too bad — it’s a mountain of a tree.”
Off Nicollet, part of Minnehaha Parkway was closed for a couple of hours after a linden tree collapsed, its roots tearing up the sidewalk.
And in Richfield, Gary Plinske was standing outside his home marveling at the swirling high winds when a large branch cracked off a tree, covering the street and blocking off traffic on Emerson Avenue S. near 66th Street.
“The winds were actually churning,” he said. “It’s amazing — Mother Nature.”