BY JIM PALMER
There is a reason why they have Severe Weather Awareness Week in April in all midwestern states. This year, severe storms started hitting the midwest as soon as the calendar turned to May, and the entire month of May was peppered with severe storm warnings. In fact, meteorologists reported that by early June, there had been more severe storm warnings so far in 2022 than any other year. Dozens of tornadoes have been confirmed in Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota since early June.
Some of the severe storms, each packed with strong wind and flooding rains, were right in our backyard.
One of the most severe storms included an F-2 tornado had a direct hit on the small city of Forada and several lake homes along Maple Lake, which is located just outside of Forada. The cities of Forada and Maple Lake are located about six miles south of Alexandria, just seven miles northeast from our home. Yeah, that close. Damage was also reported just south of our house about a half mile. And another EF-1 tornado was confirmed just 12 miles west of our home.
We were in the basement when the storms passed. We had heard reports of a tornado about 10 miles east that was coming our way, so we were bracing for the worst. When we came up upstairs after the warning had expired, there was a sense of relief. Somehow, we escaped this storm with no damage -- just a little wind and a little rain. Phew!
Hours later, through Facebook and later news reports, we learned of the devastation left in the Forada area. And five days later, we saw the destruction first hand. My wife, my son Easton, and I, joined other volunteers in helping to pick up debris caused by the severe storm.
Although the area had been closed to motorists, they had a shuttle system to get us into the hardest hit areas along Maple Lake. The NWS reported the Forada tornado had winds topping out at 120 mph in a path that was about a half-mile wide. There was also evidence of “multiple vortexes” around the area. And when we got there, we witnessed how houses and other buildings can stand up to weather like that.
The damage was like nothing I had seen before in person. A couple officials described it as a “combat zone.” Some houses were completely destroyed, and most were severely damaged. Many garages were crushed or completely gone, and many docks were mangled. Several vehicles and most boats were totaled. For some homeowners, they will be tearing everything down and starting over.
As we walked through the devastation, it was hard to believe that there were no major injuries or deaths from this storm. There were, however, many stories of close calls.
By the time we got to Forada, most of the biggest trees had been moved off the roads and cut up. Other trees and large branches were pushed to the edges of the roads so vehicles could pass through.
Some of the most memorable things we saw: A segment of a dock was lodged into the second story of a house. A massive tree had fallen completely through a home -- stopped by a sturdy foundation – just feet from people who were in the house at the time of the storm. A missing wall on one home left a kitchen completely exposed. One home had nearly every window blown out, and was covered with small pieces of insulation. One garage had been lifted up and moved about 20 yards. A home or two, right in the middle of the devastation, had little to no damage to their home, garage, boat or personal property in the yard.
The volunteer group I was part of that morning started at one lake home and helped clean up at two other homes on Maple Lake. Our jobs were primarily raking up insulation and picking up branches, glass, shingles, and siding.
There is a lot that goes through your head when you are in a situation like that. And talking with home owners, which we did at each of our stops, gives you an even more unique perspective on things. These were some of my biggest takeaways from what I saw:
1.) Respect Mother Nature. Every storm is different and you never know when the funnel is going to hit your home. If you are in a tornado warning, take it serious.
2.) Make sure you have good insurance. A couple there was still waiting for an insurance agent to get back to them when we were cleaning up their property.
3.) Take a quick video of your house and possessions. This is something almost nobody thinks about but is something that many of the homeowners wish they would have.
4.) Count your blessings. No matter how bad things are for you, it could be worse.
5.) The worst of times can really bring out the best in people. Neighbors were helping neighbors, and we didn’t hear anyone complain. When we were picking up, several businesses and individuals went out of their way to support the volunteers. We were offered hamburgers, donuts, sandwiches, candy bars, and a bunch of beverages.
It may take years to rebuild in Forada and Maple Lake. We hope all of them are able to get back to normal before too long.
And hopefully, most or all of the biggest storms are over for 2022. Although June was much quieter, you never know what Mother Nature has planned for the rest of summer. Be safe out there.