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Sunday storm causes damage to the north

A supercell thunderstorm that developed in north central Burke County Sunday evening traveled east into northern Renville County, where high winds and possible funnel clouds damaged trees, crops and buildings.

7/17/12 (Tue)

Storm damage . . . The largest implement building at the
Melin Grain Farms operation about nine miles north of Norma
sustained the most obvious damage from Sunday night's
thunderstorm.  In addition to the doors on the west (left) end
of the building getting dented, the wind peeled strips of metal
sheeting from the roof.  Owner Carl Melin wasn't certain if
a funnel cloud or straight-line winds caused the damage.


Sky light . . . From inside the implement building, the gaps
in the roof leave an undesired view of the summer sky.  Melin noted
none of the equipment stored inside the building appeared
to have been affected by the conditions, even though several
of the roof's boards crashed to the floor.


By Caroline Downs

A supercell thunderstorm that developed in north central Burke County Sunday evening traveled east into northern Renville County, where high winds and possible funnel clouds damaged trees, crops and buildings.

“It could have been worse,” said Carl Melin as he assessed the storm’s effects at the Melin Grain Farm operation in Rockford Township.

He pointed out flattened corn plants, dented Stor-King grain bins and trees snapped from their trunks in the 50-year-old shelter belt planted along the west edge of the farmyard.

The storm left a more than three-mile swath of damage in its wake for farmers in Stafford and Rockford townships Sunday night, with fields of spring wheat, barley and corn laid on the ground by the winds. The first storm reports sent to the National Weather Service in Bismarck noted 3/4-inch hail at Portal just before 8 pm. A funnel cloud was sighted northeast of Flaxton by 8:02 pm, and wind gusts estimated at 80 to 90 mph were reported from a farmstead southeast of Northgate at 8:08 pm.

Downed trees from the area north of Norma were called in at 8:34 pm by a trained weather spotter, but that individual did not report any funnel clouds.

Melin wasn’t certain if flat-line winds or a tornado caused the problems at his place. He didn’t believe there was hail damage to the buildings in the farmyard, but barley heads had been shredded and kernels pounded into the ground in one of the family’s fields, which is a typical result of hail.

He kept discovering surprises around the buildings, where wind had peeled off a solid sheet of plywood bolted to the wall of one shed. That plywood ended up in a wheat field, while smaller boxes and other items in the yard blew across the road into another field.

The roofs and overhead doors of the large steel implement buildings were dented from wind or debris blown by the wind. Sheets of metal roofing were stripped, twisted and left hanging from the top of the largest implement shed, creating a skylight effect inside the building where Melin could see no damage to any of the tractors, combines or other machinery parked there.

“We’re finding more and more damage all the time,” Melin said as he pointed out some of the boards from the implement building roof laying 20 feet or more from the structure.

Funnel cloud sighted
Tim Lautenschlager said he and his wife Stacy were home with their children on the property at the time the storm hit, sometime between 8:30 and 9 pm. “The weather radar showed the storm tracking northeast, and it looked like it was going to stay above us,” said Lautenschlager. “But the clouds were just spinning. We took off and got out of here.”

He said the family drove south to ND Highway 5, where they parked and watched the storm’s progress. “At one point, I looked back in my rearview mirror and saw a funnel cloud dip down and go back up,” he added. “That was farther south, though.”

He glanced around at the topsy-turvy lawn furniture. His children’s playhouse looked as if it had been lifted and dropped on its top, and a riding mower was missing its engine cover. “I’m not sure what happened here,” he said.

The storm left a mix of destruction in its wake. The Lautenschlagers’ house sustained only minor damage to the trim work on the northwest and southwest corners and a rail on the deck was twisted. However, the first thing Tim noticed when he returned to the yard was a neighbor’s grain bin blown across a road into the far corner of a winter wheat field southwest of the Lautenschlager home.

“This was more than the 60 mph winds they said it was,” he said. “It had to have been.”

Rainfall amounts also varied under the storm. Lautenschlager said he contacted Ryan Ones to the south, who reported .40 inches at his house coming down in about 15 minutes, while northern neighbor Jim Emmel recorded .75 inches.

Precipitation totals were highly localized. The ND Agricultural Network station in Bowbells recorded .10 inches from the storm while the NDAWN station in Mohall showed 0.0 inches that evening.

Many trees downed
The David Schupp farm north of the Melin operation, now owned by Scott Herman of Williston, was the scene of tremendous tree devastation. Spruce and cottonwood trees lay scattered across the yard and in the tree rows. “I counted 26 evergreens down out of that row alone,” Herman said as he pointed toward a row immediately east of the house.

Herman was using a tractor to haul the trunks and largest branches to a temporary pile and had cleared eight or nine trees out of the yard by noon on Monday. “You couldn’t walk out here for all the trees down in the backyard,” he said.

A clothesline, trampoline and decorative windmill and outhouse were among the casualties in the yard, but grain bins, three small trailers and other outbuildings were not touched by any of the downed trees. The trunk of a spruce tree planted just off the northwest corner of the house had snapped, but the tree landed on the deck of the house when it fell, inches away from windows and a door.

“It’s a beautiful yard,” Herman said. “It’ll just take a while to clean it up now.”

Schupp, who now lives in Kenmare, said one of his former neighbors called him Sunday night with a report about the storm. “I couldn’t sleep,” he said Monday morning. “I never had anything like that happen when I lived out there.”

Schupp planted the tree rows in 1957, and did all the landscaping in the farmstead yard as well. “Those trees had to be between 30 and 40 feet tall,” he said. “I had about a hundred evergreens in that row.”

Power poles downed too
Winds from the storm knocked down power poles across the region as well, but crews started restoring electrical service Sunday night.

Chris Bollinger, a framing foreman with Midwest Power in Bismarck, has been working with his crew in the area for the past year. They responded to the storm emergency early Monday morning, restoring the lines for a segment of 11 poles directly west of the former Schupp farmstead. “We’ll have this all up by Monday evening,” he said.

Burke-Divide crews also responded to emergency calls from customers, beginning Sunday night after the storm passed.

Bollinger said he had only seen a portion of the area covered by the storm, but he estimated straight-line winds had caused most of the damage as he noted that all the trees fell in the same direction, facing east. “And every field I’ve seen is flat,” he added.

Those flat fields could lead to a serious economic impact from the storm. Spring grains and corn appeared to be most susceptible to the winds, while mature winter wheat crops in the storm’s path stood upright.

Renville County NDSU Extension Agent LoAyne Voight said farmers will have to wait a few days to see how the crops respond. “If the crops were young enough and flexible enough, they may come back some,” she said.

Some of the crops may fill out even as the stems lay prone on the ground. “That makes it harder to harvest because you have to combine it from one direction,” Voight said. “They may end up losing some of it because you just can’t pick it all up.”

She continued, “We should know in the next week how much of a rebound the crops do make.”


The field becomes a carpet . . . Acres upon acres of spring
wheat, barley and corn are laid flat through a north-south area
spanning between three and four miles in Stafford and Rockford
townships.  The storm started in north central Burke County and
rolled east Sunday night until it dissipated near the Mouse River.