Storms down trees, power lines in northern Minnesota; Ely festival canceled

Updated: July 24, 6:30 a.m.

Severe thunderstorms that swept across parts of northern Minnesota on Friday evening downed trees, knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses and forced the cancellation of Ely's annual Blueberry/Art Festival.

Strong storms continued overnight in central and northern Minnesota. The National Weather Service reported that one storm cell produced a wind gust of 64 mph in the Duluth area just after 5 a.m. Saturday.

As of 5:30 a.m. Saturday, utility companies were reporting more than 12,000 customers without power in central and northern Minnesota — including large outages in the Brainerd Lakes area, and just north of Duluth.

By 6:30 a.m., the number of customers without power was down to a little over 7,000.

The early-morning severe weather was just the latest in rounds of strong storms that moved across the region starting Friday afternoon.

On Friday evening, a line of storms hit Ely as the city’s Blueberry/Art Festival was wrapping up its first day at Whiteside Park.

"There were a number of Blueberry/Art Festival vendor booths that were destroyed or severely damaged. We have cancelled the remainder of the festival," event organizers posted on Facebook, giving thanks for help from the police department, city workers and others who helped in the storm response and cleanup.

"As devastating as the storm was we are grateful there were no injuries. Last night, the community came out to offer assistance to vendors who were packing up. Some vendors had complete losses including merchandise. ... Seeing all the helping hands reminds us why we live in the area. Thank you to everyone for all the support."

Photos and video posted online by the Ely Echo newspaper showed artists' tents and booths tossed around amid downed trees at Whiteside Park after the storms moved through at about 6:45 p.m.

The Ely Police Department said there were trees and power lines down in the city. As of 10 p.m. Friday, Lake Country Power and Minnesota Power were reporting a combined total of more than 4,000 customers without power from the initial rounds of storms.

This year marked the 40th Blueberry/Art Festival in Ely, which was slated to last through Sunday. Organizers said they had been expecting about 200 artists and more than 30,000 visitors for the weekend.

The Superior National Forest reported downed trees in the wake of the storms, and said officials would be assessing damage on Saturday.

Earlier in the evening, a Weather Service spotter reported hailstones larger than golf balls as the storms passed through the community of Shooks in Beltrami County. There were other scattered reports of trees and power lines down across northern Minnesota.

The storms brought beneficial rain to a region that’s been in a prolonged drought — an inch or two in some locations, according to the Weather Service. But it may not be enough to fully break the drought in those areas; forecasters have said repeated rounds of soaking rain are required to make up for the rainfall deficits.

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