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Weather service confirms 4 tornadoes in Minnesota supercell storms

An enormous pine tree is uprooted from a Wednesday, June 12, 2024, tornado that touched down near Clamshell Lake in the western Whitefish Chain of Lakes.
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National Weather Service
An enormous pine tree is uprooted from a Wednesday, June 12, 2024, tornado that touched down near Clamshell Lake in the western Whitefish Chain of Lakes.

Two of the tornadoes measured at EF-2, with winds reaching 120 mph. One traveled 13 miles on the ground, from north of Crosby to south of Aitkin. Crow Wing County declared a local emergency.

The National Weather Service confirmed four tornadoes produced by two supercell thunderstorms crossed north-central Minnesota Wednesday night, June 12, including two rated EF-2.

The first tornado was estimated to be seven football fields wide with wind speeds reaching 120 mph as it crossed the western Whitefish Chain of Lakes in Crow Wing County, near Ideal Township and Crosslake. The storm dropped another EF-2 tornado 5 miles north of Crosby, where it stayed on the ground for about 13 miles before dissipating by Cedar Lake in Aitkin County.

“That’s pretty much as large and as long and as powerful as these tornadoes typically get in the Northland,” said meteorologist Joe Moore. “It’s expected every couple of years but it’s certainly impressive. It is the most impressive tornado that we’ll see — maybe — for this summer. We’ll see.”

A section of roof lies against a tree following a Wednesday, June 12, 2024, tornado that touched down near Clamshell Lake in the western Whitefish Chain of Lakes.
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National Weather Service
A section of roof lies against a tree following a Wednesday, June 12, 2024, tornado that touched down near Clamshell Lake in the western Whitefish Chain of Lakes.

Moore was part of the storm survey team that spent 15 hours on the ground Thursday evaluating the damage across the region. He said the narrow corridor of damage coupled with the rotation of the supercell storms on the radar were clear signs of tornadic activity.

The weather service had tornado warnings in effect in all the areas where tornadoes were ultimately confirmed. Two weaker tornadoes also touched down: one near Glen in Aitkin County, and one near Wright in Carlton County. Both were rated EF-0 based on limited damage and slower wind speeds.

The survey team looks at damage to well-built structures to guide estimates of wind speeds, and Moore said the most significant impacts were seen in the path near where the first tornado touched down in Upper Whitefish Lake.

“There was at least one residence out on Tip Top Point north of Clamshell Lake where ... 60% of the one side of the roof was just lifted up,” he said. “That’s pretty impressive. And that says to me that we’re looking at more 100, 110 mph winds.”

Another sign of winds exceeding 100 mph is when trees snap off near the base. While campers or pontoon boats flipped over sometimes paint a more dramatic picture, Moore said it really doesn’t take very fast winds for this to occur.

Tornadoes weren’t the only damaging element produced by the storm, as widespread hail fell in the multiple severe systems. The largest recorded hailstone was about 4 miles north of Marble was 2.75 inches in diameter, nearly the size of a baseball. The communities of Chisholm, Finlayson, Backus and Crosslake all saw hail 2 inches or larger.

Courtney Ballek shares an image of large hail that fell in Chisholm, according to a Facebook post in the group "Alerting the citizens of the Iron Range." The hail fell June 12, 2024, as part of a series of severe thunderstorms in north-central and northeastern Minnesota.
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Courtney Ballek via public Facebook group
Courtney Ballek shares an image of large hail that fell in Chisholm, according to a Facebook post in the group "Alerting the citizens of the Iron Range." The hail fell June 12, 2024, as part of a series of severe thunderstorms in north-central and northeastern Minnesota.

There’s also been enough damage to public infrastructure that Crow Wing County officials declared a local emergency on Friday. Crow Wing County Administrator Deborah Erickson said they’ve estimated $60,000 in damage in the earliest assessment, with that number expected to spike dramatically as local governments and electrical cooperatives continue to respond for cleanup.

With such a large and quick-moving tornado, Erickson said she’s grateful there were no deaths or serious injuries to residents.

“If that would have had the effect of going through residential areas or actually touching down in a longer pattern of tornadic activity, it really could have sustained some significant catastrophic damage,” Erickson said. “Luckily, we were absolutely spared that in this particular instance.”

As of Friday afternoon, power had been restored to nearly all of the 1,000-plus Crow Wing Power customers left in the dark by the storms.

The weather service expects to release more detailed information once it finishes reviewing all the photos and video it has received related to the storm. This includes video from well-known storm chasers, who captured clear footage of the tornado as it crossed Highway 210 west of Aitkin.

Much of north-central and northeastern Minnesota was under an area of elevated risk for severe weather Wednesday — a risk level seen no more than once a year in the state, on average. The storms fired up Wednesday afternoon as a cold front collided with warm, humid air, creating an unstable environment ripe for thunderstorms.

More storm coverage

This is Erickson's first severe weather event since becoming Crow Wing County administrator last month. She praised Emergency Management Director Clayton Bard, also relatively new in his position, along with other county staff, local responders and community partners involved in the storm cleanup response. She noted particular praise of members of the county 911 emergency dispatch staff.

"If you think about the area that was covered in this particular storm, we had multiple agencies, many fire departments, first responders from all areas," Erickson said. "We had citizens calling in from across the county. We had a variety of traffic that was coming into our dispatch center during this storm, and they handled the whole thing with absolute great and quiet calm.

"That really helped make that process go through as quickly and as seamlessly as possible."

Chelsey Perkins spent the first 15 years of her journalism career as a print journalist, primarily as a newspaper reporter and editor. In February 2023, she accepted a role as News Director of KAXE in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where she's building a new local newsroom at the station.