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Witnesses say Tornado Touches Down Near Zimmerman, Would Mark State Record

March 07, 2017 08:32 AM

Numerous reports and video images of severe weather near Zimmerman indicate a tornado likely touched down in the area before a warning expired at 6:15 p.m.

If the National Weather Service confirms the tornado touched down, it would mark the earliest tornado touchdown in the state by nearly two weeks.

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Law enforcement reported a tornado in east-central Minnesota, about 44 miles northwest of Minneapolis, late Monday afternoon. National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Krause says if confirmed, the tornado would be the earliest in the year ever for Minnesota. He said the previous record was a tornado on March 18, 1968, near St. James in southern Minnesota.

Chief Meteorologist Dave Dahl said Monday night the National Weather Service will work to determine just how many times the tornado touched down. Witnesses reported a twister set down just west of Zimmerman, and law enforcement in east-central Minnesota said one touched down near Princeton.

The weather service says a wind gust of 62 mph was reported near Pierz in central Minnesota.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spoke to Jeanette Schiemo, who said she rode out the storm in her basement 4 miles west of Zimmerman.

"I saw it started to spin and twist and you could hear the roar," Schiemo said. "People always say it sounds like a frieght train, and that's exactly what it sounded like. Or going through a tunnel with a bunch of Harleys that roar. All my trees in the backyard, all my 40-year-old oak trees are down, and all I'm thinking is one didn't hit the house because there's no holes in the roof."

In southeastern Minnesota, a large grain elevator collapsed in Clarks Grove, and there were numerous reports of building damage.

All entrances to Clarks Grove were closed except to residents Monday night due to downed power lines and trees. Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag said officials hoped power would be restored to the area midnight or shortly thereafter. No injuries were reported, but Freitag said much of downtown Clarks Grove suffered damage.

"There was a lot of debris blowing into the streets," Freitag said. "A lot of picture, glass windows are broken. The double doors on the fire department have been destroyed. Some roofs are gone. The fertilizer plant on the west side of town, that's had significant damage. This little town took a heck of a beating."

Dahl reported heavy storms and further severe weather was expected to dissipate between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. A wind advisory remained in effect, and a high-wind watch will be in effect Tuesday.

A tornado watch remained in effect until 10 p.m. for Houston and Winona counties in southeastern Minnesota and Buffalo County in west-central Wisconsin. 

The National Weather Service said a severe thunderstorm warning in Goodhue County in southeastern Minnesota was in effect until 7 p.m.

Approximately 2,300 Connexus Energy customers in Zimmerman and Baldwin Township were without power as of 8:15 p.m. after high winds snapped about a dozen power poles, according to a Connexus spokesperson. The company expects to restore power to Zimmerman customers within about eight hours, and possibly sooner for those in Baldwin. 

The weather service says that at 6:31 p.m., a severe thunderstorm was located over Mazeppa, 15 miles northeast of Mantorville, moving northeast at 70 mph.

The thunderstorms were packing 60 mph wind gusts and quarter-sized hail. The weather service said to expect hail damage to vehicles as well as wind damage to roofs, siding and trees.

Other locations impacted by this severe thunderstorm included Frontenac State Park, Bellechester, Central Point and Wacouta, according to the weather service.

NWS urged residents in those areas to move to interior rooms in lower levels of homes and buildings.

The storms moved quickly to the east and northeast throughout the evening, slowing as the night wore on, Dahl said.

Reports of heavy hail and wind damage to buildings were called in near the area of the tornado warning, from Monticello to Big Lake to Zimmerman.

FROM EARLIER:

According to the National Weather Service, a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado was located at 6:03 p.m. northeast of Princeton near Dalbo, moving northeast at 45 mph. The tornadic circulation has moved northeast of Princeton.

Severe thunderstorms have been reported near Owatonna. Residents in southern Minnesota have reported heavy wind damage to a number of buildings.

There have been no reports of a funnel cloud touching down or a wall cloud in the area, but the weather's rotation suggests a tornado is a possibility.

A severe thunderstorm warning in the area is also in place until 6 p.m.

A tornado watch had been in effect until 10 p.m. 

Chief Meteorologist Dave Dahl reports the greatest threat is damaging winds and large hail, which is expected to fall around 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday. 

Dahl said the weather on the backside of the strong winds and heavy weather will likely be more tame.

The National Weather Service reports the earliest tornado on record in Minnesota was on March 18, 1968. 

Thunderstorms, high winds and a drop in temperatures are all expected throughout the state this week.

There is also a chance of flurries Tuesday morning. 

Chief Morning Meteorologist Ken Barlow said after storms sweep through the state Monday, overnight wind gusts may increase to 30-35 mph with the potential for gusts to reach 40 mph by Tuesday. Temperatures Tuesday are expected to be in the 40s.

Sunshine is expected to return Wednesday with temperatures dropping into the 30s.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Credits

Michael Oakes, Rebecca Omastiak and Theresa Malloy

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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