REGIONAL—Near hurricane force winds pushed by one of the most powerful storms to hit northeastern Minnesota since the 1999 derecho, blasted through the region early Thursday morning, flattening trees and knocking out power for tens of thousands of residents.
As of 9 a.m. on Thursday, Lake Country Power reported more than 25,000 homes were still without power in its service territory, which encompasses much of rural St. Louis County. Repair crews had restored power to about 2,000 homes, but the rural electric cooperative was advising customers that the damage is extensive, which means some customers could be without power for an extended period.
“It’s a tangled mess,” said Todd Johnson, Lake County Power’s Director of Operations. “We’ve seen several severe storm systems blow through the area this summer, but this one is by far the worst – and most widespread.”
Among the hardest hit was Ely, where power was not restored until 11 a.m. on Thursday and where tree damage is extensive.
Lake County epair crews have been dispatched and assigned to restore 354 outages in parts of eight counties that Lake Country Power serves. A significant portion of the co-op’s 8,200 mile service territory was affected. The co-op’s subsidiary, Lakes States Construction, has also been called in to help repair damage.
The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office is advising residents not to travel unless necessary due to the large amount of debris and downed trees on area roadways. They also advised that many stoplights are not currently operable and reminded motorists to treat controlled intersections as four-way stops.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service confirmed that at least two campers were killed and two others were seriously injured by falling trees at a campsite on Basswood Lake, near Ely.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service is still discussing whether the storm qualified as a derecho, which is the name for an extremely powerful and long lasting storm event, such as the one that struck the region in July 1999. But Carol Christenson, a meteorologist at the NWS office in Duluth, said there is no question that the storm exhibited what is known as a "bow echo" on radar, which is typically associated with very strong winds. According to Christenson, peak wind gusts hit 69 miles per hour at the Duluth Airport, while a ship just outside the Duluth Harbor clocked winds on an official anemometer at 72 miles per hour. Christenson said higher gusts will likely be reported as more weather results come in from around the region.
Current forecasts advise the public to be aware that a second round of severe storms is possible late on Saturday.
More information on this story will be posted once it becomes available.