Pounded by storms and scorched by the sun, Minnesota is limping its way out of July.
Week after week, the state has been pummeled by tornadoes, floods, thunderstorms, baseball-sized hail and winds strong enough to topple trees and peel roofs off buildings. Natural disasters hit so fast and so frequently in recent weeks that the news cycle moved on before families and communities had time to tally everything they’d lost.
In the Boundary Waters last week, a ferocious storm swept over a group of campers on a Boy Scout outing. Falling trees killed a 13-year-old boy and an adult volunteer and injured others. Families and businesses in Litchfield and Watkins are still sifting through the debris from tornadoes that tore through, obliterating several homes and badly damaging many others.
Pine County is still assessing the damage from the worst flash floods the region has seen since 2012, when storms washed seals out of the Duluth Zoo and into city streets. In Sturgeon Lake, Holly Staples is helping her parents salvage what they can from the floodwaters that swept through their home, destroying everything for the second time in four years.
“Bad things happen to good people,” said Staples, who has spent long days working through sweltering heat and swarming mosquitoes to sift through the waterlogged wreckage of the cozy three-bedroom log home by the Moose Horn River. Her parents, Thomas and Judith Koch, had just finished rebuilding from the 2012 flood damage. “But bad things don’t usually happen twice in four years, where you lose everything you own. Everything.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” she added, “when you walk into your house and your refrigerator is floating and your family heirlooms and photos are floating.”
Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management is working with 12 counties in central Minnesota and seven more in the Arrowhead region to assess storm damage and determine eligibility for state disaster assistance. Itasca County and the Leech Lake Reservation have already requested state disaster aid.
The Minnesota Climatology Working Group keeps a running storm tally. This month’s list starts on July 5, when more than 6 inches of rain fell near Morris. Less than a week later, heavy rains pushed rivers, creeks and lakes over their banks in Pine, Morrison, Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Benton, Mille Lacs, Kanabec and Carlton counties, washing out roads, closing highways and spawning tornadoes in Meeker County.
On July 16, thunderstorms swept across western Minnesota, with damaging winds, large hail and torrential rain. At one point, the National Weather Service noted “nearly 14,000 lightning pulses were detected within a 15-minute period” along the Minnesota-Iowa-South Dakota border. Last Tuesday, storms dropped hail the size of baseballs in the Red River Valley. Streets flooded in Grand Forks, while trees and power lines went down in northern Beltrami County. On Wednesday and Thursday, thunderstorms delivered hail and high winds in Bemidji, the Brainerd Lakes area, Duluth and the Boundary Waters.
In the calm after the storm, temperatures soared, leaving the state sweltering in triple-digit heat indexes.
While it may feel like the sky is falling, meteorologists say this is just another Minnesota summer.
“This is fairly typical summertime weather; periods of stormy weather and a lot of heat,” said Carol Christenson, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Duluth. Anyone looking to beat that heat, she said, can catch a cool breeze off Lake Superior.
“If you drive along the North Shore,” she said, “you’re going to find relief.”