Aerial view reviews 3 paths of destruction in the region

Published 6:06 pm Friday, June 18, 2010

Streaks of brown torn into an otherwise green countryside is what the view from 500 to 800 feet up looks like.

I had the privilege of hitching a ride in a small airplane with Albert Lea’s airport manager, Jim Hanson, on Friday afternoon shortly before Gov. Tim Pawlenty was slated to arrive. We flew from Albert Lea along the path of tornado damage to Kiester then back again.

Some reports said there were two storm cells producing tornadoes, but Hanson and I concluded there must have been three cells.

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The brown comes not just from the debris strewn about but also from the crops being sucked out of the earth. We could see where the tornadoes skipped and where they landed. We could see where they were thin and where they were thick.

The widest any funnel on the ground reached was about a half-mile, which matches the reports witnesses gave on Thursday.
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The initial cell — the largest and longest of the three — spawned a small twister southwest of Kiester and hit the Dale Garvick farm before ripping up trees on the northwest side of the city. It lifted for a time before coming down southwest of Conger, nailing a hog farm and growing in size. It was wide when it neared the area of Freeborn County Road 46 and County Road 12.

When it reached Interstate 90, it halted its northeast direction and turned due north, as if it is were crossing the street. After crossing I-90, then it shot on a north-northeast path, lifting in some places, but passing west of Clarks Grove and west of Geneva, hitting the Bob Wayne farm, and eventually northward to Beaver Lake and near Hope.

Hanson and I noticed another brown streak through the Bent Tree Wind Farm — we saw the footings and remarked that it was a good thing the turbines aren’t built yet — and followed it and found ourselves to be east of Freeborn. This is tornado damage from the second storm cell. The path cuts from west of Manchester, hitting the David Ausen farm, northward to the Leslie Nelson farm. The tornado trails lifts to spare Hartland. From here, wind damage reveals the cell went north.

We noticed another path of tornado damage for the Hollandale area. It was thin at first, so it would destroy one building on a farm and spare another. It widened to a quarter-mile and started leveling entire farms, such as the Jeff Ravenhorst place. It heads northeast toward Blooming Prairie — we didn’t follow it out there because we had to get back to the airport for the governor. But it seems too far away from the others to be part of those storm cells. It must be from a third cell, we concluded.

I later called KIMT chief meteorologist Adam Frederick and together we examined what the radar showed on Thursday evening. Clearly, the image from 7 p.m. shows three distinct storm cells.

People in Manchester indeed would have seen tornados to the west, north and east.

Frederick said between the radar pattern and the aerial report, it is safe to say the Thursday night tornadoes came from three storm cells that moved across Freeborn County.

Hanson and I finished the ride with seeing the governor’s airplane land. A state trooper drove him to a meeting with local officials and then a state trooper pilot took him on a helicopter ride to view the devastation.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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