Rains clog F-M streets
By Cole Short and Sarah Henning
The Forum - 06/20/2000

A severe thunderstorm spawning torrential rains and possibly a tornado swept through the Red River Valley early Monday evening.

The storm flooded city streets, knocked over trees and stranded motorists throughout Fargo-Moorhead.

Doppler radar indicated a funnel cloud or tornado two miles southwest of Horace, N.D., moving northeast toward Fargo around 7:20 p.m., said Al Voelker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D.

Voelker said the weather service received an unconfirmed report that the tornado touched down around 7:35 p.m. near Briarwood five miles south of Fargo. The tornado continued northeast and was expected to reach Moorhead by 7:45 p.m. and Glyndon, Minn., by 8 p.m., Voelker said.

Shortly after that, radar spotted the tornado three miles northeast of Averill, Minn., 17 miles northeast of Fargo. No injuries were reported.

In Fargo, the thunderstorm snapped power lines, backed up storm sewers and sent cascades of water flowing down city streets.

Fargo Police rushed to assist stranded motorists, although at least one police car got landlocked in the process.

“We’re very busy,” said Sgt. Kevin Volrath. “Some people aren’t heeding the seriousness of the situation and don’t understand the mechanical limits of their vehicles and are getting stranded.”

In clogged underpasses, manhole covers blew off from the pressure of overflowing sewers. Fargo dispatchers received a report of a man bleeding from the head after being struck by one of the manhole covers.

Water reached 3 feet deep in many underpasses and on major arterials like 32nd Avenue South and 13th Avenue South near Interstate 29, Volrath said.

Police were unable to reach many stalled or stranded vehicles due to flooding.

Fargo City Engineer Dennis Walaker said Fargo’s southside sanitary system was fighting to keep pace with the constant flow of water.

Residents living between 13th and 32nd avenues south and from University Drive to Interstate 29 were warned to keep close tabs on their floor drains.

“The problems down there are pretty serious,” Walaker said. “We’re taking a lot of water through a manhole … and the guys are down there with extra pumps.”

Walaker said once the skies clear, city streets should divert the excess runoff within four to six hours.

“But as far as the sanitary system goes, we’ll be fighting that all night,” he said. “And we may not win.”

West Fargo Police Chief Arland Rasmussen advised no travel in the city after main roads like 13th Avenue and Center Street filled with water.

West Fargo Public Works Director Barry Johnson issued a public plea for residents to plug their low-level drains to avoid taxing the city’s sanitary lift stations.

In Moorhead, City Manager Jim Antonen said emergency pumps were being used to counteract street flooding.

The storm also backed up the Fargo Police Department’s dispatch center. Calls ranged from floating vehicles along 25th Street South to cars driving on city sidewalks to kids swimming in a drainage ditch.

Snapped power lines also caused isolated blackouts for some Fargo customers of Northern States Power Co., said spokesman Terry Thorstensen.

About 150 customers lost power around 8 p.m. Thorstensen said emergency crews expected to have the lines repaired before midnight.

The deep area of low pressure and accompanying warm front that caused Monday night’s storm pushed east and emergency warnings for the Red River Valley were lifted before 9 p.m., Voelker said.

The storm dumped from 1 to 5 inches of rain in areas of Steele, Traill and Cass counties in North Dakota and in parts of Clay County. A National Weather Service observer in Moorhead recorded 4.6 inches of rain by 11 p.m.

Voelker said conditions were ripe for the storm, and it was only a matter of time before severe weather hit the region.

“We’ve been expecting this for several days,” he said. “It was just time for this to develop.”