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State's first December tornadoes confirmed

The National Weather Service confirmed that two tornadoes touched down Wednesday night in Minnesota -- one in Hartland in Freeborn County and the other in Lewiston in Winona County.They are the first tornadoes ever recorded in December in Minnesota. Wednesday night's severe thunderstorm wreaked havoc throughout southern and southeast Minnesota.

Storm Damage
Tenant Rocky Papenfus surveys the damage from Wednesday’s storm after a tree fell in front of his apartment Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, on the 600 block of Third Avenue Southeast in Rochester. “I went to open my door and I was blocked in,” Papenfus said. “They (Rochester Fire Department) spent about a half hour sawing me out.”
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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The National Weather Service confirmed that two tornadoes touched down Wednesday night in Minnesota -- one in Hartland in Freeborn County and the other in Lewiston in Winona County.

They are the first tornadoes ever recorded in December in Minnesota.

The Hartand tornado was estimated to be an EF1 or EF2, according to the National Weather Service. It originated about 900 yards into the Southwest corner of Freeborn County, traveled to the northeast, and east of Alden, and tracked into Hartland. That’s where investigators found damage indicating the strength of that tornado. EF2 tornadoes carry winds of up to 135 mph.

Dozens of utility poles were downed or broken as Xcel Energy and Freeborn Mower Electric have worked to restore power in that area.

The Lewiston tornado was an EF0, making it the lowest severity level with winds between 65 and 85 mph. It caused damage near County Road 25 and Almon Drive, south of Lewiston. A garage and barn were damaged, but Winona County Emergency Management Director Ben Klinger said no injuries were reported.

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The summer-like storm ravaged southeast Minnesota, leaving some homes in pieces, pushing vehicles off the road, uprooting trees and killing one man .

It was "a historic event for the state of Minnesota to have a severe weather event that moved across the state in the middle of December," said Stu Ireland, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service-La Crosse. "This just hasn't happened before. Unfortunately, we were a part of history last night."

Record wind speeds were recorded throughout the region. Weather stations in Plainview, Mabel and south of Grand Meadow all reported wind speeds of more than 80 miles per hour, Ireland said. The Rochester International Airport recorded a wind speed of 78 mph, shy of the record set on April 27, 1984, when the wind reached 85 mph.

The damage was apparent, with trees uprooted, homes severely damaged, power lines down and tractor-trailer rigs getting blown off the road Wednesday night.

Mower County emergency management's Amy Lammey said that she received more than 20 reports of the storm damage in the county by 9:15 a.m. Thursday. She said the reports included trees destroying roofs of houses, and prompted several families to be displaced overnight. One person was moved to a hotel, said Lammey, and other residents stayed with friends or family in the area. She had received no reports of injuries.

Winona County chief deputy Jeff Mueller said his office was responding to at least two dozen reported cases of storm damage Thursday. The reports include silo tops being torn off and debris becoming lodged in residential home roofs. Some calf barns in the county were destroyed or sustained damage, Mueller added. He was not aware of any residents being forced out of their homes because of the damage, and he had not heard of any injuries.

Don Kullot , emergency management director for Fillmore County, said he received reports of widespread damage across the county.

As he responded to the reports on Thursday he said he would evaulate if there was enough destruction to make a declaration and open up the possibility for state and federal funding for the area. Much of the damage was done to agricultural buildings, Kullot said.

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“We’re Minnesota nice, so we take care of each other,” Kullot said.

Wednesday's weather was odd for December in many ways. The morning started with thick fog and afternoon temperatures reached into the 60s.

So odd, in fact, "the Storm Prediction Center put out a moderate risk for severe weather (Wednesday) in Minnesota, and that is the first time that has ever occurred this far north in the month of December," Ireland said.

To go along with the storm, the weather service issued its first-ever tornado warning in Minnesota during December.

The National Weather Service - Twin Cities confirmed a tornado caused severe damage in Hartland. The station said the severity level of the tornado and other details would be provided later Thursday evening.

Erich is a digital content producer at the Post Bulletin where he creates content for the Post Bulletin's digital platforms. Before he moved to Rochester, Erich worked as a sports reporter for Rivals.com covering the University of Illinois' athletic programs in Champaign, Illinois. Readers can reach Erich at 507-285-7681 or efisher@postbulletin.com.
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