Monday afternoon a handful of residents were given the devastating news that it may be a month before their power is restored. This followed a confirmation from the National Weather Service that two tornados touched down in Polk County Friday July 19. A F1 tornado touched down in the White Ash Lake area, staying on the ground for several miles moving north. A second tornado, rated as an F0, touched down near Little Blake Lake and was on the ground for approximately 1 mile.
Throughout the day Friday, weather forecasters were predicting the sticky temperatures could lead into summer thunderstorms. By Friday evening, severe storm watches and warnings were coloring the counties on news weather maps.
Once the large cell entered Polk County, it entered swiftly. By approximately 5:10p.m., a strong storm entered the north west corner of the county. Winds were reported in excess of 84mph. Hail and heavy rainfall amounts accompanied this weather event. The storm continued across Polk County in a south east direction. Communities included in the path of this were Cushing, Frederic, Luck, Milltown, Centuria, Balsam Lake, Clayton and Turtle Lake. Residents sustained damage to buildings, power lines, property, and trees. Flash flooding occurred in areas throughout most of the county.
Law Enforcement and Fire Departments from the surrounding communities, along with First Responders and Ambulance services were dispatched to assist in checking the areas affected by the weather event. Fires were also reported along with multiple reports of sparking power lines.
Saturday morning 6,925 residents of Polk County were without power. Polk County Board Chairman Dean Johansen signed a Disaster Declaration that will allow Polk County Emergency Management to seek disaster funding if recovery costs exceed established thresholds.
By Monday Polk Burnett was reporting over 2,400 members were still out of power, although 6,600 had been restored since Friday night in several counties. In a social media update the company said, “We have called in crews from five neighboring co-ops and contractors with expertise in tree clearing, underground and overhead power line construction. If all goes well, power should be restored today to many members in Balsam Lake, Bone Lake and Half Moon Lake areas. It will likely the end of the week before all repairs are made, especially on the east side of the system in around Barron County.”
Steve and Erin Osero live north of Range, on the corner of 160th and County Road D. Their property sits right in the middle of a path about 2 miles wide that the storm passed through. Erin said, “Damage is extensive and the mess is unbelievable. Our house just has some shingle and siding damage, pretty minor compared to many around us. We lost the 60-year-old barn that is on my mom’s property just down the hill from our house and we also lost the horse shelter. The damage to the trees all around us is hard to wrap our heads around. We have very few trees around the house that are still standing, and I can only imagine what the 40 acres behind our house looks like. This landscape that I have known and loved since I was 7 years old is changed forever.”
Many area people witnessed caravans of utility trucks traveling through Amery over the weekend as they headed north to fix downed lines and restore power.
“Our power has been out since the storm hit, and we have been told that we might not have power until Friday, maybe even later than that. I know there are crews out there working 18-hour days, but they have a huge job, this is a mess. Every power pole on our street is snapped off,” Erin said.
Many feel thankful for help that has been given from area businesses and residents. Ellie’s Ice Cream and Coffee in Amery made free ice available to area residents who were without power. The Balsam Lake Café opened Saturday evening offering hot meals to those in need. With the help of other local businesses and neighbors, Brickfire Pizza in Clear Lake brought hot food to hand out at Turtle Lake High School. Turtle Lake and Unity Schools, as well as DN Campground opened their showers for use.
Erin said, “The outpouring of help from friends and family has been overwhelming, moving us to tears. We have had over 60 people that have come to work. We can’t even begin to express enough ‘Thank yous’, everything from people coming with chainsaws, hauling brush, bringing in their tractor with a grapple to help haul brush, bringing us food so we can feed all our workers. With their help we have accomplished so much already. We have a long road ahead of us, but it feels so much more manageable because of everything they have helped us with so far.”
Apple River Fire Chief Alec Adams said their crew worked tirelessly from 6p.m. Friday to 10 p.m. Sunday night, checking on residents and clearing roads. By Monday morning, all roads in Apple River had at least one lane open. During cleanup the department was called to nine other emergencies.
Adams said, “A huge thanks goes out to the Amery Fire Department for their manpower, Amery Auto Salvage and Monarch Paving for their assistance and the use of their pay-loaders, S&F Construction for their assistance and the use of their backhoe, Polk Country Highway Department and all of the good people at the Polk County Dispatch office. Thank you to all residents for your patience, assistance, food and saws. We cannot Thank You all enough for everything. Together we will get through this and regain our strength as a strong community.”
The National Weather Service has so far confirmed 12 tornadoes in less than 24 hours in Wisconsin.