Rice County rocked by storm, suspected tornadoes

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Rice County was hit hard by severe weather on Thursday, with extreme winds and at least one likely tornado reported in the area.

A tornado warning was issued at 6:22 p.m., lasting until 7:30 p.m., with winds reaching up to 60 miles per hour during the storm’s peak, according to the National Weather Service.

A spokesperson for the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities said there were at least two “likely” tornadoes in southern Minnesota, one near Medford and one near Faribault, though neither could be officially confirmed. Survey crews from the NWS will check out the area in the morning and could find more tornadoes.

“We suspect Faribault had at least one tornado. Just north of Medford, we believe there was also one tornado,” NWS Meteorologist Caleb Grunzke said. “There was also a video of a tornado posted just east of Grenada.”

Whether tornadoes touched down or not, the winds caused considerable damage throughout southern Minnesota.

“It sure looked like a tornado to me [around Northfield],” Northfield Police Chief Monte Nelson said. “Whether it was straight line winds or a tornado, it doesn’t really matter, because everything is totaled.”

Nelson, himself, experienced significant damage on his property.

“I lost my barn and half of my grove,” he said. “My neighborhood out east of town is not in good shape.”

Emergency crews were out in full force across the county and beyond.

“Throughout the path of the storm in southern Minnesota, there are large trees down, power lines down, buildings destroyed, houses receiving considerable damage,” Grunzke said.

Power, where lost, was not expected to be restored Thursday night.

“This is a widespread event that is going to affect us for more than just a day,” Nelson said. “If people are out of power, they shouldn’t be planning on having it until tomorrow morning. People need to plan for not having power.”

Serious damage to buildings and planes was found at the Faribault Municipal Airport, a possible touchdown spot of a tornado. Emergency crews had to block off the airport from “gawkers.” Crews blocked off Lyndale Avenue at 30th Street NW just after 7 p.m.

“Don’t be out driving and gawking. It’s not safe. If people don’t need to be out and about, they shouldn’t be,” Nelson said. “Just check on your own properties and your immediate neighbors to make sure everyone is OK.”

Fargaze Farms, on the edge of Northfield, was “leveled,” according to Nelson. He said between 40 and 50 people were out trying to help them with their livestock. Red Barn Farm, a popular pizza and music venue also on the outside of Northfield, was reportedly demolished by the storm.

Northfield City Administrator Ben Martig said the southeast portion of Northfield seemed to be the most impacted. He noted that anyone in Northfield wanting to place a damage report should call 507-663-9483.

Bill Bongers, who lives between Faribault and Northfield, off Hwy. 3, said 15 pine trees were knocked down in his front yard. He was out in his shop when the storm came through.

“I was holding the door closed as it was coming through. I was in the shop when the overhead door blew in,” Bongers said. “I didn’t have time to get to the house. It came through so fast.”

Bongers called it “very, very concerning,” but said he was all right, as were his house and shop. However, he reported his barn, wood shed, machine shed and garden shed were all taken down.

In Morristown, the damage was heavy. The Rice County Sheriff’s Office issued a curfew for the town from 10 p.m. Thursday to 6:30 a.m. Friday, asking people to stay in their homes and only allowing residents into the city.

In response to Northfield News and Faribault Daily News Facebook posts, residents reported damage all over the county.

Lynnae Byers posted a photo of a house badly damaged in Morristown, where the storm reportedly hit hard. Sandy Larson, of Faribault, said “All large trees are gone in our neighborhood.” And Katrina Todd, of Faribault, said “Over by Jefferson is all tore up.”

Mikayla Lautenschlager shared a picture of an overturned semitrailer on Hwy. 3 between Northfield and Faribault. Christine DeCoster Sickler, of Northfield, shared a photo of trampoline that had landed in the middle of the street. Stephanie Howard Mahal reported a street light down at Prairie and Jefferson.

Dozens of people shared photos of damaged and knocked over trees, some with roots torn right from the ground.

Both Northfield Public Schools and Faribault Public Schools planned to open two hours late Friday. Rice County emergency management will be taking and gathering reports from around the county, and local law enforcement, public works crews and others will be cleaning up and taking care of safety issues.

By Jacob Swanson, Philip Weyhe, and Michael Hughes (2018, Sept 20 | Updated 2018, Sept 21) Northfield News

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Kyrie Wagner