3 deaths reported as storms with hurricane-force winds rake Minnesota, South Dakota

Flooding reported along North Shore

Storm clouds carrying dust picked up from open fields
Storm clouds — carrying dust picked up from open fields — roll through Sioux Falls, S.D., on Thursday. The storms produced wind gusts in excess of 100 mph in South Dakota, and in excess of 90 mph in Minnesota.
National Weather Service - Sioux Falls office

Updated: 7:50 p.m.

At least three people died as severe storms packing winds in excess of 100 mph swept across eastern South Dakota and much of western and central Minnesota on Thursday.

One person died near Blomkest, Minn., south of Willmar. The Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office said deputies were called to a home at about 7 p.m. Thursday "about a missing adult male in the area of where a large grain bin had just blown over by storms."

"Emergency responders arrived and began a search which eventually led to the discovery of the deceased man under the collapsed grain bin," the sheriff's office reported in a news release. Authorities later identified him as 63-year-old Ryan Erickson from rural Lake Lillian, Minn.

The Argus Leader reported at least one person died in Sioux Falls, S.D., as storms moved through that area. And the Associated Press reported that a 61-year-old woman died from injuries after a chunk of wood broke through the window of the vehicle she was riding in, as storms kicked up dust and debris northwest of Sioux Falls.

KELO-TV reported there also were people critically injured as the storms moved through South Dakota.

More than 70,000 homes and businesses remained without power across the region early Friday as damage assessment and cleanup continued after the second straight night of widespread severe weather.

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The National Weather Service office in the Twin Cities said it was sending two survey teams to western Minnesota to assess the damage — including whether any of it may have been caused by tornadoes.

After 6 p.m. Friday, the Weather Service said one survey team concluded damage in Kandiyohi and Renville counties was the result of “straight line winds” between 85 and 95 mph and not a tornado.

Another survey in Douglas and Pope Counties determined damage in Douglas County was caused by a tornado, although the rating was not yet determined. It also said the area north of Alexandria saw winds up to 100 miles per hour.

The weather service says others surveys may be needed as reports continue coming in.

Hurricane-force winds

There were several reports of funnel clouds and possible tornadoes on Thursday — including one near Pillager in central Minnesota, and another at Castlewood in eastern South Dakota.

But widespread, hurricane-force straight-line winds appear to have caused most of the damage.

A weather station at Tripp, S.D. — southwest of Sioux Falls — reported a wind gust of 107 mph as storms moved through Thursday afternoon.

A 102 mph wind gust was reported near Gary, S.D. — near the Minnesota state line. Wind gusts of 94 mph were reported at the airport in Madison, Minn., as well as at Verndale, Minn., in Wadena County, on Thursday evening. A weather station at Alexandria, Minn., reported an 87 mph gust.

Those winds picked up dirt from farm fields, creating a dust cloud as the storm front swept across eastern South Dakota and into western Minnesota. Ominous, rolling shelf clouds rolled across much of the state.

The winds caused widespread damage to buildings, power lines and trees across the region.

A dispatch to the National Weather Service on Thursday night from near Long Prairie in Todd County, Minn., reported "house fine, shed and barn missing at the moment. Trees and power lines down all over the county."

Airplane hangers were damaged at the airport in Morris, Minn.

A spotter report from Chokio, Minn., noted "power poles snapped at base, live wires, 3.5 feet in circumference trees snapped and on houses."

Building damage also was reported in Osakis, Alexandria and Holloway, among other Minnesota communities.

The strong winds also overturned semis along Interstate 94 near Alexandria, forcing a closure of the eastbound lanes. The freeway has since reopened — though there are ongoing reports of flooding covering some roads in central and western Minnesota due to heavy rain.

In central Minnesota’s Meeker County, a semi was blown off the roadway on State Highway 15 at 305th Street in Kingston Township, and the driver was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not considered life-threatening, according to the sheriff’s office. In Eden Valley, a vehicle was washed off the roadway on Meeker Stearns Street and became fully submerged in water but the driver was able to escape.

Heavy rain also was reported in northeast Minnesota, where a flood warning is now in effect until next Tuesday for the North Shore as rivers are running extremely high.

The National Weather Service said 1 to 2 inches of rain fell overnight, adding to rivers already swollen by past rainfall and snowmelt. River gauges along the North Shore are showing a sharp uptick in water levels, and Cook County is reporting some washouts along county roads.

Authorities are asking residents and visitors along the North Shore to use extra caution around the fast-moving water.

Flood warnings also continue in the Rainy River basin along the Canadian border, and in the Red River valley.

The Twin Cities metro area — which was hit hard by severe storms on Wednesday night — was largely spared by Thursday night’s storms. Winds gusted to 53 mph at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as storms moved through late Thursday.