FARGO — Strong winds that toppled trees and damaged property across the Red River Valley over the weekend likely reached their peak Sunday, June 14, and are expected to persist through at least Wednesday.
Fargo and Grand Forks have seen some of the heaviest winds in the area, with the fastest gusts recorded in both cities reaching 51 mph on Sunday. The bluster calmed slightly on Monday, but National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Knutsvig expects gusts to reach 45 mph or more on Tuesday before calming on Thursday.
“It’ll be a bit on the breezy side on Wednesday also,” Knutsvig said. “As we get further into the week, the winds will begin to be a little bit more manageable. Definitely only the lighter side — 10-20 miles per hour in the afternoon. We’ve got a couple days left where the pressure gradient is favorable for heavy winds.”
The heavy winds have caused damage to trees in the area, knocking branches down throughout the valley, and have even uprooted a few trees.
A tree in south Fargo interfered with electrical cables when it blew over Sunday, sparking a garage fire. Another tree blowing over in south Fargo hit an electrical transformer, starting a fire and temporarily disrupting service to several homes.
"We had some incidents between trees tipping over and the lines," said Xcel Energy North Dakota Principal Manager Mark Nisbet. "We try to be aggressive on our tree trimming, but if you see a whole tree come down, there’s not much you can do about that."
Even if a whole tree doesn't get knocked over, the flying broken branches common in 50 mph winds can cause problems even if trees are trimmed properly around wires. This was the case in the south Fargo transformer fire, Nisbet said. A branch flew onto the transformer and heated up from the electricity, causing it to burn.
"If people report that to us or the fire department we take care of (it) as fast as we can," Nisbet said. "We appreciate a good working relationship with the fire department. They stand by and keep things safe until we can get out and do repairs."
The high winds are being caused by a low pressure system to the west and a high pressure system in the east meeting and placing a pressure gradient across the Red River Valley, according to WDAY Chief Meteorologist John Wheeler. That pressure gradient is causing the north-south winds. It was made worse by a low-level jet stream about 1,000 feet above ground that saw gusts of wind reaching 60 mph.
The low-and high-pressure systems have stalled in the area, causing the winds to persist for several days, Wheeler said, but a cold system is on its way to move them out of the area later in the week.
“The worst of it was Sunday night,” Wheeler said. “The pattern will remain with this warm weather and south wind probably through Wednesday when a cold front comes through and cools us down. It’s going to be warm and windy Tuesday and Wednesday, but probably not as windy as it was Saturday and Sunday night.”