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Strong storms down trees, leave thousands without power in Minnesota

Strong thunderstorms swept across much of the Northland on Saturday, downing trees, dropping torrential rain and leaving several thousand homes and businesses without power.

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Lauren Esselstrom took this photo of a shelf cloud from Park Point in Duluth shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday as a strong thunderstorm moved into the Twin Ports. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Esselstrom)

Strong thunderstorms swept across much of the Northland on Saturday, downing trees, dropping torrential rain and leaving several thousand homes and businesses without power.

The Twin Ports was under a severe thunderstorm warning for a time but appeared to escape the worst of the storms, though lightning apparently sparked a house fire that caused an estimated $20,000 in damage. There was more damage to the west - the National Weather Service relayed a report of trees and branches down and partially blocking at least one road in the Sawyer area of Carlton County late Saturday afternoon. Farther to the west, in Aitkin County, Willow Matteson told the News Tribune that she and her husband left their home a couple of miles from Aitkin to travel to Brainerd at about 4 p.m. Saturday, but decided to return home when they heard a tornado warning had been issued.

"As we got home and pulled into the driveway, we saw this huge tree falling down. ... The tree has two main parts and it split and so one part fell on my husband's car and knocked over his motorcycle as well, and the other part is just hanging there now," she said.

The standing part of the oak tree, which was more than three feet around at the base, will need to come down because it could come down on their house, she explained.

"It was a shock to come home to," she said.

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Matteson said they were hoping that the Harley-Davidson had only tipped over and that the car had taken the brunt of the falling tree. But there's a good chance they both were totaled, she said.

While driving home, "it poured and hailed quite a bit. There was some flooding in town. It was coming down so hard that even driving 30 miles per hour, it was hard to see the road," she said.

The Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for parts of Aitkin and Crow Wing counties after the storms dropped in excess of 3 inches of rain in some locations.

The tornado warning that Matteson heard was in effect for the Cromwell and Wright areas for a time Saturday afternoon based on radar-indicated rotation in a storm, but there were no immediate reports of a tornado touchdown.

Minnesota Power reported about 4,400 customers without electricity as of 6:45 p.m. Saturday, with the largest outages in West Duluth and Proctor, as well as in the Pengilly, Taconite and Sandstone areas. The number of customers without power was about 400 as of 8 a.m. Sunday.

Lake Country Power reported about 5,300 customers without electricity as of 6:45 p.m. Saturday, with the largest outages in the Lake Vermilion, Swan River, Jacobson and Kettle River areas. There were more than 100 separate outages, the utility reported. The number of customers without power was about 800 as of 8 a.m. Sunday.

The lightning-caused fire in Duluth was reported on the 300 block of Sparkman Avenue in the Hunters Park neighborhood at about 5:20 p.m. No one was home at the time of the fire, which the Duluth Fire Department said caused an estimated $20,000 in damage.

Much quieter weather is expected in the Northland on Sunday, though westerly winds may gust in excess of 30 mph at times, the Weather Service reported.

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Lisa Kaczke and Andrew Krueger of the News Tribune staff contributed to this report.

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