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Published August 11, 2010, 07:27 AM

Tornado damages farm near Reynolds, N.D.

RURAL REYNOLDS, N.D. — While Steve Walen and his son, Brent, were jockeying their combines back from a wheat field four miles west of their farm Tuesday, ahead of a dark approaching thunderstorm, a tornado ripped up the shed where they planned to park them.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

RURAL REYNOLDS, N.D. — While Steve Walen and his son, Brent, were jockeying their combines back from a wheat field four miles west of their farm Tuesday, ahead of a dark approaching thunderstorm, a tornado ripped up the shed where they planned to park them.

The tornado exploded an empty grain bin waiting for the wheat, spreading the crumpled corrugated steel across his farmyard, into his trees and into a field 300 yards north.

Nobody was home and no one was injured, and the Walens’ house was spared by what the National Weather Service fig-ured was an EF-2 twister that tore through his farmyard six miles west of Reynolds.

Walen had the unhappy task of guiding tours through the wreckage of this well-kept farmstead where his wife, Linda, grew up.

The huge 70-by-140-foot building’s west end is ripped open like a tin can, the still bright rafters gleaming, except for one that sticks vertically out of the shingled roof of the 70-year-old barn 50 feet away. The barn looks OK but was twisted off its old foundation.

An air-seeder and cultivator and other equipment are holding up the ruined roof of the ex-shed, the weight of it visible on the bulging tires.

Every so often, an agonized creak comes from the warped walls and top. The west wall was blown out, whole, and rests on its back 10 yards away.

A big green grain cart sits entirely upended, open-side down, its auger amputated. A semi-truck half-full of wheat and a triple-axle truck inside the Quonset escaped with little damage to their cabs, although the boxes were bent under the crushed roof.

“We got an inch-20 of rain,” Walen said, stepping over a puddle. Except for the tornado, the rain was welcome for his corn and beans, he said.

The 5,000-bushel grain bin was pulled clean off the bolts holding it to the cement slab, and it lay in several wrinkled parts, one of which came down on and crushed the roof of a nearby by Quonset-like shed, before bouncing up through trees it shredded like shrapnel, ending up in a harvested wheat field across the road.

Two other identical bins next to it remained standing because Walen had just filled them with wheat.

“I’ll need new tops,” he said.

It happened about 1:30 p.m., according to the weather service. Walen wasn’t watching his watch but was gone only about 20 minutes to drive the combines back from a wheat field.

“It was raining so hard, it was so dark, we didn’t see nothing,” he said.

“My son was listening to the radio on the way home in his combine, I wasn’t listening to mine. He heard the report there was a tornado 3½ miles southeast of Holmes. Then, when we got about three-quarters of a mile from home, we started seeing debris in the road and fields.”

Walen pauses, his emotion hardly visible, but real at reliving the recent memory and cut it short with a clenched mouth understatement: “It was something to see when you came in the yard.”

The tornado was rated by Mark Ewens of the weather service’s Grand Forks office as a medium-sized EF-2, after he assessed the damage Tuesday evening.

“I estimated the peak winds at 125 mph,” Ewens said. “EF-2s have windspeeds of 111 to 135 mph.”

The tornado came in from southwest of the farm about a quarter-mile, moved nearly straight north through the west end of the Walen farmstead, then angled off to the northwest, the direction of the thunderstorm that spawned it, Ewens said.

It went back into the clouds about a mile northwest of Walen’s farm.

No one saw it, despite a neighbor relative who watched the storm go by from a farm a half-mile west of the Walen place.

From the damage, it appears there was a smaller vortex that accompanied the main tornado, doing damage from more than one direction, which is typical, Ewens said.

“I estimated, at its largest, it was probably 50 yards wide, and unfortunately, hit its largest point in the farmyard.”

His preliminary assessment of the tornado will be rechecked by other weather service meteorologists today and later, he said.

This summer the region has seen literally countless tornadoes, Ewens said.

“There are just so many this year, we can’t count them.”

The Walen farm is only five miles, as the crow flies, southeast of the Owen Dahl farm home that was blown to pieces by an EF-4 tornado, one of 17 that plagued the two-state region June 17.

“We watched that one go by, about three miles away,” Walen said, shaking his head at the harbinger.

His insurance agent already stopped by and once he gets that estimate, Walen plans to have a construction firm bring in some big equipment to start retrieving all his vehicles and equipment trapped and crushed under fallen buildings.

“The tricky part is to get the stuff lifted off without doing anymore damage,” he said.

Ewens was one of many visitors Tuesday to the Walens’.

“There’s been a lot of people stopping by and offering to help,” Walen said, his comfort showing on his quiet face.

“The disgusting thing is, we got harvesting to do, too,” Walen said, surveying the damage.

He’s combined two-thirds of his 1,200 acres of wheat, with soybeans and corn soon to ripen.

But Walen’s eyes still can glint with a little humor.

“I called up the guy who built it and said, ‘remember that building you put up for me two years ago? Well, it’s gone. And I’m going to need another one.’”

Rainfall amounts in eastern North Dakota included a record for the date at the Grand Forks International Airport of 2.36 inches by 4 p.m., breaking the record set in 1941 for Aug. 10 of 2.15 inches, said John Hoppes of the weather service office in Grand Forks.

A report of 2.25 inches of rain six miles northeast of Hatton, which would be pretty close to the Walen farm, came in to the weather service, as did a report of 2 inches in Bisbee, N.D.

A farmer about 10 miles south of Emerado, N.D., reported 3 inches fell at his farm in less than an hour.

Today’s weather will be mostly sunny and hot, with a high near 90, according to the weather service’s forecast. There’s a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms on Thursday.