Brainerd lakes area residents got more than they bargained for Wednesday night while attending Fourth of July fireworks’ events in Baxter.
The lights in the sky were not all fireworks as a severe thunderstorm barreled through the lakes area offering residents plenty of lightning strikes that lit up the sky.
Residents lined up along Highway 371 in Baxter, filled up the empty field between Target and Mills Body Works and surrounding areas to watch Brainerd/Baxter’s fireworks through the early part of the storm. The fireworks show was cut short by the storm when the National Weather Service (NWS) in Duluth issued a tornado warning for Crow Wing, Cass, Wadena, Morrison and Todd counties. Sirens went off three times during the night and law enforcement authorities asked fireworks watchers to go home and seek shelter because of the storm.
The fireworks were started before the NWS prompted the first siren blasts for the tornado warning. Once started, the firework display couldn’t be stopped.
Baxter Police Sgt. Dave Timm said officers in squad cars and on all-terrain vehicles went through the gathered crowd warning onlookers. Some evacuated the area or started walking toward vehicles. Others stayed to catch the fireworks display. Getting everyone out of the area was a little bit of a challenge, Timm said. But the area was cleared before the heavy rain and lightning arrived, although there was traffic congestion.
Timm said the movement of people went as smoothly as could be expected and there were no reports of vehicle or pedestrian incidents. There were a lot of rain-soaked police officers directing traffic.
“We directed traffic out in an orderly fashion and people were calm and polite,” Timm said. “Our emphasis on the whole evening was safety and we were monitoring the weather. I did think we did a great job of notifying people and most people were receptive to that. A majority of people responded to that.”
Carol Christenson, NWS meteorologist, said “Last night’s storm had the capability of producing very severe and hazardous weather. When we issue a tornado warning, it means we are very close to having a tornado touchdown.
“We’re very lucky. We did have a funnel cloud sighted near Staples that had the capability of developing into a tornado, but we have no confirmation of a touchdown. The storm was rotating and developing into a tornado, but didn’t.”
Christenson said when people are outdoors enjoying an event and see flashes in the sky, such as on Wednesday night, they need to be aware of the severe weather and seek shelter.
“We really escaped a close one,” she said.
A big pole barn also went down in storm Wednesday night.
Marvin Lehmann of rural Brainerd said Thursday that his 60- by 120-feet pole barn located on the 21000 block of Crow Wing County Road 22 was destroyed by the storm. Lehmann said about two-thirds of his barn, which did not have walls, was demolished.
Lehmann said he lives about two miles away from the barn and was informed Thursday by his renters that the barn was damaged. Lehmann said the barn was filled with lumber and the barn’s estimated loss was about $20,000.
Lehmann said it was weird because the trees near the barn were not destroyed.
Brainerd police had a report at 8:18 p.m. of a tree that fell across the power lines on Riverside Drive.
Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch said there was a report of a funnel cloud by Sugar Point, on the northeast side of Leech Lake, however, he said the lake has a lot of funnel spouts that could have been responsible for the report.
Crow Wing Power reported just a few scattered power outages, but nothing major.
NWS reported that the Brainerd airport showed .73 inches of rain fell and .57 inches fell in East Gull Lake.
The weather in the lakes area has either been wet or blistery hot. Dr. Peter Henry, Emergency Department medical director at Essentia Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd, reported the hospital had a few cases of heat exhaustion but he was not aware of any cases of heat stroke.
Luckily, the NWS reported that Thursday was expected to be the end of the heat wave. However, more severe weather is expected Friday.
“Today (Thursday) is another hot humid and sticky day and then we expect very intense heavy, damaging winds and storms Friday afternoon, Friday night,” said Christenson. “Then it will begin to cool off and dry out for the weekend, with highs in the 70s-80s, warm but not as humid.”
Christenson said the rainfall amount expected is up to an inch or more Friday. The NWS reports showers and thunderstorms Friday. Saturday is expected to be partly cloudy in the morning then clearing, with a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Highs are expected to be 77-82 degrees. Sunday’s high is 80-85.
(Renee Richardson, Senior Reporter, contributed to this story.)