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Ryan Johnson, Forum Communications, Published June 18 2010

2 people dead in northwest Minnesota after storms strike region

GRAND FORKS – Multiple tornadoes touched down in the Red River Valley on Thursday afternoon, killing at least two in northwest Minnesota and causing destruction on both sides of the river.

An elderly woman was killed after her home in Almora, Minn., a small town of about 20 near Wadena, was destroyed by a tornado. At least three people were injured in that area, Otter Tail County Emergency spokesman David Hauser said.

Brittney Schulke of Almora told The Daily Journal that her grandmother, Margie Schulke, was killed and that her grandfather, Norman Schulke, suffered two broken shoulders.

In Mentor, Minn., a person was killed and the C-Store gas station and convenience store along U.S. Highway 2 was destroyed by a tornado that came through town at an angle, according to the Minnesota State Patrol.

More reports of damage to homes and buildings up and down the Red River Valley were coming in Thursday evening.

Al Voelker, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks, said weather experts knew by Thursday morning that the chances were good for tornadoes in the Red River Valley.

“We had several frontal boundaries that moved through the forecast area,” he said, adding conditions were “pretty ripe for tornadoes” because of instability, wind shear and other factors.

Those conditions prompted the weather service to issue a tornado watch at 12:23 p.m., and tornado warnings started to be released around 3 p.m. as funnels were reported in multiple locations.

A wind gust of 70 mph was reported shortly before 9 a.m. on a wind sensor at Fargo’s Hector International Airport.

Heavy rain became a problem in some areas, with rainfall of 5 inches reported from Kragnes to Georgetown, Minn., north of Moorhead.

In West Fargo, several trees fell and some streets had flash flooding. Half-inch hail fell in parts of West Fargo.

A maze of tornado warnings crisscrossed the borders of Grand Forks County and neighboring counties during the late afternoon.

At 3:40 p.m., spotters reported a tornado on the ground near Finley, N.D., and at 4:02, reports came in about a possible tornado sighting west of Reynolds, N.D., as well as reports of possible tornadoes near Thompson and Hatton, N.D., according to the police band radio.

A tornado was spotted 5 miles northeast of Gilby, N.D., just before 5 p.m., and a funnel cloud was reported near the town less than an hour later.

A funnel cloud was spotted about a mile west of Reynolds, N.D., at 5:15 p.m., and a tornado was spotted at 5:55 p.m. between Fisher, N.D., and Grand Forks.

The sirens went off in Grand Forks for a second time at 5:28 p.m. and stopped about 5 minutes later after hail fell in parts of the city.

Voelker said the “extremely active” storm system was so widespread that it was hard to get a handle on just how many tornadoes it produced Thursday afternoon and evening. When asked if he thought there were more than a dozen, he said that was “quite possible.

“We don’t know yet,” he said. “There are a lot of areas we’re going to have to drive out (to) and look at damage. We know of at least three or four damaging tornadoes.”

People in the Red River Valley “certainly aren’t strangers to tornadoes,” Voelker said, but the size and activity of Thursday’s “significant tornado outbreak” made this storm stand out.

“There’s a couple of us that have got about 30 years in the weather service, and the only one we can think of that was somewhat of a similar situation was in 1999,” he said, referring to a June 6 series of at least 10 tornadoes that tore up homes in Mountain, N.D., and caused damage in several counties on both sides of the Red River.

Thursday’s weather was a “particularly large event” for our neck of the woods, Voelker said.

“But this would be a large event, I would guess, for almost anywhere.”


Johnson is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald

The Associated Press contributed to this report.