UPDATED: Storms pound eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota; crews restoring power to customers
UPDATED 12:01 p.m.
FARGO - Severe storms overnight Tuesday and Wednesday pounded the eastern half of North Dakota and western Minnesota with heavy rain, strong winds and large hail.
About a dozen towns in Minnesota's Otter Tail and Grant counties lost power about 6:30 this morning. Otter Tail Power Co. said it restored power to nearly 2,400 customers late this morning after winds blew tree branches into a transmission line and smaller distribution lines.
Storms sweeping the region also spawned funnel clouds in the Red River Valley, though the National Weather Service had no immediate reports of tornado damage.
Meteorologist Geoff Grochocinski in Grand Forks says straight-line winds are believed responsible for tree, power line and property damage in Fargo-Moorhead and West Fargo.
About 1,070 Xcel Energy customers lost power in north West Fargo at 4:50 a.m., and power was restored by 8:20 a.m., spokeswoman Bonnie Lund said. Crews reported lightning strikes damaged insulators at several locations.
About 4,100 Xcel customers in Fargo along the Red River between Main Avenue and Interstate 94 lost power from 4:40 to 6:50 a.m.
Xcel had 2,100 customers out of service at 59 sites scattered throughout the area, including 45 outages in the Fargo area, as of about 10 a.m. For a glimpse of the affected locations, customers can access Xcel's new online outage map by going to www.xcelenergy.com and clicking on Power Outages on the left side of the page.
Xcel was bringing in crews from Grand Forks and St. Cloud, Minn., to aid in the restoration effort, Lund said.
In downtown Fargo, the North University Drive underpass at Main Avenue was flooded when a lift station lost power, forcing traffic to be diverted. The power was back on at 7:40 a.m., and the underpass was expected to be pumped out and reopened in about five minutes, according to Fargo Public Works.
A storm-related fire at 5:25 a.m. damaged the attic of a home at 1444 16th St. S. in Fargo. Assistant Fire Chief Larry Schuh said a power line became disconnected from the house, either by wind or a fallen branch, causing an electrical short.
Fargo firefighters had responded to 19 calls of downed power lines and trees down across streets as of 8:15 a.m., he said.
At least three power lines were down in a three-block area near 11th Avenue and Third Street in north Fargo this morning.
A tree fell on the lines near 11th Avenue and Fourth Street, knocking them down around 4:30 a.m.
"They were hanging there for a few hours, sparking and arcing together," said Holden Harwood with EVAC (Emergency Vehicle Assistance and Communications), a volunteer search and rescue support unit dedicated to community service throughout Cass County.
Harwood monitored the live lines this morning to make sure people stayed away from them and to help direct traffic.
A utility pole near 11th Avenue and Third Street in north Fargo snapped when a large tree fell on nearby power lines, said Gary Smestad, Xcel Energy design supervisor, who monitored the lines this morning.
"As a matter of coming down, it took the power out, it blew the fuse," Smestad said.
Jeremy Higdem woke up to a nasty surprise to find his GMC Jimmy covered by a tree that fell near Seventh Avenue and Eighth Street in north Fargo. Higdem said it looks like the SUV isn't damaged much.
"It looks worse than it is," he said. "I got inside there and it's not too bad."
Higdem said he's just glad he moved a 1969 Chevy pickup he's restoring into the garage last night. It was parked between the tree and the Jimmy.
Large hail was reported in south central North Dakota. House windows were reported broken throughout the towns of Elgin and Cannonball.
At Fargo's Hector International Airport, 0.66 inch of rain fell between roughly 4 and 6 a.m., bring the total since noon Tuesday to 1.2 inches.
The carnival operation at the Red River Valley Fair delayed its opening for four hours today to give it more time to inspect the rides after the high winds of the morning storms. Fair gates opened at the usual time at 11 a.m., but the midway won't open until 3 p.m.
Storms left spotty power outages across rural areas in Mahnomen County, said Sheriff Doug Krier. Fallen power lines were still being repaired in areas Wednesday morning, he said.
There were no reports of serious structural damages or injuries, Krier said.
Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon said he had no reports of building damage or injuries, either - just a few spots of brief overland flooding.
"We kind of dodged the bullet on this one," Gordon said.