Tornado, high winds wreak havoc in Dickinson County

Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Winds estimated at 70 mph contributed to extensive damage around the Iowa Great Lakes Tuesday afternoon. Buildings along the Queen's Court at historic Arnolds Park Amusement Park were damaged when a large tree snapped and fell into the building. (Photo by Matt Heinrichs)

SPIRIT LAKE -- Power lines were snapped, roadways were flooded and trees were pushed into buildings as part of a particularly nasty storm system Tuesday afternoon.

Dickinson County Emergency Management Coordinator Michael Ehret measured winds of up to 70 mph. Conditions warranted both a severe thunderstorm warning and a tornado warning for the area Tuesday afternoon.

"We had a line of storms develop kind of along Interstate 29 south of Sioux Falls into parts of northeast Nebraska," Brad Adams, an observing program leader for the National Weather Service said. "As they shifted into Iowa and Minnesota, they definitely became severe. We had a couple of tornadic storms along with some wind damage. It certainly impacted areas around Spirit Lake and Milford, but we're still gathering information about that."

High winds blew a tree into the entryway of a cabin along Zephyr Drive in Arnolds Park during a severe storm Tuesday. (Photo by Will Musgrove)

The storm system arrived at about 2:50 p.m. in the Milford, West Okoboji, Terril and Arnolds Park areas with winds exceeding 60 mph. The severe weather continued north into Spirit Lake and Orleans as the 3 p.m. hour approached.

The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls uses radar and spotter information to determine if a storm has reached severe levels or has spawned a tornado. Ehret passed along information about the tornado about 7 miles south of Lake Park.

"It actually touched down about a half-mile in front of me," he said. "I was sitting alongside the road up on a high point watching the storm come in.

Ehret said he noticed a debris field swirl around an acreage in the area.

"It was probably on the ground for maybe a minute," Ehret said. "It moved for maybe a half a mile and then dissipated. It did pick up some debris and destroyed a tin shed that was at that acreage. Everything else on the acreage was OK ... it was a weak tornado, but a tornado nonetheless."

Ehret said high winds caused extensive tree damage around the Iowa Great Lakes -- especially north and east of the Milford area. A pair of grain bins were destroyed by strong winds about one mile east of Lake Park.

"The wind caught them, they were empty, and just pushed them over," the emergency management coordinator said.

Property owners on the north or east side of lakes in the Iowa Great Lakes will have experienced the most damage from winds coming out of the southwest.

"In some cases entire trees were pushed over," Ehret said. "The ground's very saturated, so it doesn't take as much to do that as it would normally. There were still some really good winds and a lot of branches, which in turn causes a lot of power line damage."

Alliant Engery estimated about 1,600 of their 10,000 customers remained without power about four hours after the storms passed through.

"I'd be willing to guess that there are some people who are going to be without power through the night," Ehret said at about 5 p.m. Tuesday. "They're going to start with the areas that benefit the most people -- where they can put the most people back online first."

Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative is also working to restore power throughout the region.

Winds exceeded the speed limit and pushed this traffic sign into the ground along Highway 9 in Spirit Lake. (Photo by Russ Mitchell)

"The power companies are really backed up right now trying to get everywhere," Ehret said. "Their priority is to get the power lines moved and off the roads."

As cleanup began in earnest Wednesday, Ehret encouraged Lakes residents to check tree branches to ensure there were no power lines or live wires attached.

"Just be safe if you're using ladders, chainsaws and things like that," Ehret said. "Wear the appropriate gear and if it's something you're maybe just not comfortable dealing with, there's nothing wrong with calling someone in to help out."

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