Severe weather tears off roofs, damages new solar array at Camp Ripley
LITTLE FALLS, Minn.—A storm Wednesday night damaged barracks buildings and set back the opening of a new solar panel array at the Minnesota National Guard's Camp Ripley near Little Falls.
Camp spokesperson Staff Sgt. Anthony Housey said strong winds hit the camp beginning at about 10 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. Sometime between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., the roof of a barracks building, designated building number 7-132, was blown off along with part of the roof from a billeting area, number 7-71. The debris from the buildings in turn damaged the brand-new solar panel field under construction, the final panels of which were due to be installed the next day.
The dedication ceremony for the 10-megawatt solar array that was set for Sept. 16 was postponed until next spring, according to project developer Minnesota Power.
No injuries were caused by the storm, but trees were downed and both government-owned and personal vehicles were damaged. No soldiers were in the dormitory at the time its roof was blown off, Housey said. There weren't any sirens to signal a tornado, he said.
The damages were still being assessed, so a dollar figure was not yet available, Housey said.
Rick Hiltbrand, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Twin Cities office in Chanhassen, also said information was still being gathered about the storm. A NWS warning coordination meteorologist was surveying the area's damage pattern to determine whether it was hit by straight-line winds or a tornado. The survey may be completed by late Thursday night.
Rain amounts from the storm system were the heaviest north of Brainerd, with some totals in the 1-2 inch range, Hiltbrand said.
"We were extremely fortunate, all our people are safe," Col. Scott St. Sauver, Camp Ripley garrison commander, said in the guard's news release. "We can repair buildings and replace damaged equipment, but our people are irreplaceable."
A release from Minnesota Power said a quarter of the 97 rows of solar panels sustained damage, including twisted and broken racks that hold the solar panels in place, broken solar panels and damaged wiring. The solar panels were crushed by a large storage container and other debris blown into the array by high winds, the release said.
"Minnesota Power had representatives at Camp Ripley this morning ensuring the site is physically and environmentally safe, contacting insurers and beginning to plan for repair or replacement of damaged components," the company said.
The array was designed and built to American Society of Civil Engineers structural codes to withstand 105 mph winds and the panels are tested to withstand the impact of golf ball sized hail, the release said.