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Sunday storms pack a punch

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Dairy cattle are loaded in trailers Sunday at the Carlson Dairy near Pennock. After a storm devastated the dairy farm, volunteers helped remove the cattle to a temporary location. (Carolyn Lange / Forum News Service)2 / 5
Volunteers work Sunday to repair a building roof at the Carlson Dairy near Pennock after a storm devastated the farm. Nearly 400 volunteers showed up to make repairs, clean up debris, haul cattle and distribute food brought to the farm by other volunteers. (Carolyn Lange / Forum News Service)3 / 5
Dairy cattle stand Sunday in what used to be an enclosed barn at the Carlson Dairy near Pennock. A portion of this barn roof was blown away in a storm –exposing the animals to the rain that followed the high winds – and another segment collapsed. (Carolyn Lange / Forum News Service) 4 / 5
Volunteers driving pickups with trailers line up Sunday at Carlson Dairy to remove cattle to a temporary location after a storm damaged numerous buildings at the rural Pennock farm. (Carolyn Lange / Forum News Service)5 / 5

PENNOCK, Minn. — A family dairy operation west of Willmar was hit hard by a powerful storm that rolled through west central Minnesota early Sunday morning.

Nearly every barn on the Carlson Dairy was damaged by the high winds that punched the early morning with a wallop around 7 a.m.

According to the National Weather Service, a trained spotter estimated winds at 60-70 mph in the Pennock area, where the farm is located.

Power was out for many hours in numerous communities from Murdock to Madison to Grove City and many trees were down and buildings and vehicles damaged throughout the region. There were also reports of hail, along with the damaging winds.

So far the National Weather Service has not indicated if the storm included more than straight-line winds.

One worker at Carlson Dairy reportedly told one of the owners that he had seen a tornado before it ripped through the farm.

Several new cattle barns and a large shop that was built a year ago were severely damaged or destroyed in the storm. Other outbuildings and homes were also damaged on the sprawling farm, a fifth-generation farm with a history that dates back to 1891.

The roof of one section of a barn was ripped entirely off and strewn across a field — exposing animals to the rain that followed the high winds.

Another section of the barn had collapsed — trapping animals inside.

Amazingly no animals were killed, although a few were injured.

Word traveled quickly about the damage and nearly 400 volunteers showed up at the rural Pennock farm with trucks, trailers and semis to haul cattle away to a temporary location.

All 700 heifers, which are cattle that have not yet had a calf, were taken to another Carlson dairy facility or a neighboring farm in Kandiyohi and Swift counties.

Another 300 mature cows from the family's 1,600-head milking herd were also removed to a temporary location.

The milking barn had minimal damage — by comparison to the other barns — and after electricity was restored, milking resumed while volunteers cleaned up debris, patched holes in roofs, hauled cattle and distributed food that was brought to the farm by other volunteers.

"It's amazing," said Kellie Carlson, as she watched people she knew and didn't know pitch in and help.

"They're moving animals and it's awesome," Carlson said, fighting back tears as she tried to grasp the enormity of the damage and the outpouring of community support for the farm she and her husband, Carl, operate together with Carl's brother Chad and Chad's wife, Kindra.

Both couples' children are also involved, as well as Chad and Carl's parents, Curtney and Louise Carlson.

Just a few miles to the east on U.S. Highway 12, several turkey barns and a hog farm also had significant storm damage.

In Pennock, Mayor Kevin Crowley was driving a pickup while crews filled it with downed branches in the small city park.

A large tree had crashed into the Lions Park shelter and trees landed on several homes.

"We're piling the trees up and later on we'll have to grind them up or haul them up to the brush site," said Crowley.

Crowley, a banker in Pennock who also handles ag insurance, said the damage to farms just outside of Pennock was "extensive" and "devastating."

The storm, which the National Weather Service said stretched from South Dakota to Wisconsin, damaged homes, farms, businesses and municipal facilities like parks.

In Spicer, where the second day of the Ninja Warrior event was to have taken place at Saulsbury Beach, the large sports equipment for the fundraising competition was damaged and the event cancelled.

There was significant tree damage on segments of Indian Beach Road on the southeast side of Green Lake in Spicer, with many trees uprooted and branches broken off.

Numerous power lines — in rural areas as well as municipal systems — were either snapped off or tipped over in the storm, leaving many residents and businesses in the region without power for hours.

A West Central Tribune staffer said that many businesses in Litchfield and Atwater, including a convenience store and fast-food restaurant, were still closed at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Grandview Buildings, which manufactures portable buildings west of Litchfield, suffered storm damage with completed buildings and lumber strewn across the production complex.

Luisa Estrada told the Tribune that about 30 volunteers spent Sunday helping clean up numerous trees at her parents' farm home between Priam and Raymond. Two homes that are rented to migrant workers during the summer were also severely damaged at the site when trees fell on them, she said.

Cleaning up is likely what many people will be doing this week.

The Weather Service said more thunderstorms are expected to continue through Wednesday, with severe weather most possible Tuesday afternoon and evening.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750
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