A play set was smashed at a residence outside Hart during Tuesday’s tornado.
by CHRIS ROGERS
It was a week of wild weather for the Winona area, as a tornado and minor flooding last week followed August’s near-drought conditions. Fortunately, local communities avoided the worst of it.
Sirens went off in Winona last Tuesday and cellphones lit up with warnings to take cover. “It came up pretty quick,” Winona County Emergency Management Director Ben Klinger said. Much of Winona County was under a tornado watch, but the alert suddenly changed to a full-on tornado warning after radar indicated that a tornado touched down near Hart, north of Rushford, just after 9 p.m. The tornado was projected to hit Winona and Goodview minutes later, but it dissipated south of I-90 and most of the county emerged relatively unscathed. Trees and crops were blown down in Hart Township, there was minor damage to a house, and a children’s play set was smashed. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), the tornado reached wind speeds of 95 mph — a moderate EF1 on the zero-to-five Enhanced Fujita Scale. “That’s on the lower-end scale of a tornado,” NWS Meterologist Dan Jones stated. “Basically it’s a weak tornado.”
Jones and Klinger stated that they were unaware of any confirmed sightings of the tornado, but that radar images and the pattern of damage indicated to NWS experts that there was a rotating tornado, not just straight-line winds.
The same storm contributed to minor flooding in northern Buffalo and Trempealeau counties, with some roads closed because of high water. Arcadia received 4.5 inches of rain on Wednesday, while Gilmanton got nearly six inches in 24 hours. “That’s a lot of water in a short time,” Trempealeau County Emergency Management Director Dan Schreiner said. The Trempealeau River at Dodge reached minor flood stage by mid-week. As the Winona Post went to press on Friday afternoon the Trempealeau River at Dodge was projected to reach moderate flood stage by Friday night and the Black River at Galesville was expected to reach minor flood stage, according to NWS forecasts.
It is remarkable how much rain the area got and how little flooding there was, Schreiner stated. The roads that flooded are roads that always flood, he explained, adding that despite heavy rainfall, there was no major flash flooding. “I, for one, am deliriously happy with the results that occurred from that storm. The potential was huge, and it did not develop,” Schreiner said. “We were in excellent shape going into that storm,” he continued. “Our waterways were at or below normal levels and the ground still had capacity to absorb more moisture. I think those two facts were monumental in helping us out.”
Elsewhere in the Driftless Region, other communities were not so lucky. Massive downpours fell on areas where the rivers were already swollen from previous rains. Westby, Wis., got nearly 10 inches of rain in one night, and large portions of several Kickapoo River towns suffered record flooding, according to the NWS. “We dodged the bullet,” Schreiner said. Yes, Trempealeau County did, Jones agreed. “If you would have gotten the amount of rainfall that occurred [near the Kickapoo River] anywhere along the Mississippi River with our steep terrain and valleys and creeks, it would have turned out just as bad. After awhile, the soils just wouldn’t be able to handle the 8-12 inches of rain that fell over that area,” Jones stated.
Schreiner was very pleased to see that local municipalities, including Arcadia, had crews out sandbagging well in advance of the floodwaters. “We’ve talked a lot about being proactive with sandbagging because once you’re standing in water, sandbagging is ineffective if not futile,” he explained. “These events are doing one positive thing, and that’s getting us used to responding and being proactive like the city of Arcadia was,” Schreiner added.
The flooding events came after much of Southeast Minnesota and Western Wisconsin experienced near-drought conditions in August. As of late August, the U.S. Drought Monitor classified all of Winona, Buffalo, and Trempealeau counties as “abnormally dry,” one step below an official drought. Trempealeau County Farm Bureau President Shane Goplin described the effects on his crops in an August 23 interview: “We’re starting to burn up.” After that interview, late August rains broke the dry spell, but Goplin said many of his plants were too far gone. “We’ve definitely lost top-end potential … We’ve got some corn, but it’s not going to produce much,” he stated. “Once the [corn] cobs drop, that means it’s pretty much raised the white flag saying ‘I’m done,’” he explained. It is too bad, because in July, “We had what I’d say is one of the best looking crops we’ve ever produced,” Goplin added.
“At the risk of sounding like my father … it seems like in the old days we had different weather patterns,” Schreiner said. “We had rain [that was] slower, steadier — an all-day rain, a slow, steady drizzle. We don’t seem to experience that much anymore. We have a lot of downpours — a whole lot of rain in a short period of time.”