Summer storms wreak havoc for members

Lake Country Power members have been tested early and often by Mother Nature this summer. The fallout has been clearly seen from high winds, toppling trees, and the disruption of service from a steady supply of severe weather.

“This seems to be quite the year for wind storms,” said Carol Christenson, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Duluth. As of mid-July, she says that 132 thunderstorm warnings have already been issued this summer in northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin — 68 in the LCP service territory.

The most damaging storm occurred in late June when what meteorologists call a “derecho” raced across the region, gaining strength as it moved east toward Ely, knocking out power to 7,500 members in its wake.

What’s in a name?

Christenson says for a storm to be labeled a derecho it needs to meet certain requirements including an overall length of more than 240 miles and have gusts of at least 58 miles per hour. Winds are typically less than 100 mph, but gusts in excess of 130 mph have been recorded.

The June 29 thunderstorm qualified. And, if memory serves people well, it was a system of the same caliber that caused extensive damage in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on July 4, 1999. For those that recall, that ’99 windstorm was talked about for years due to the fire hazard associated with all the leveled trees and debris.

Derechos are not necessarily rare, according to Christenson, but the power of these storms is nothing short of shocking. She says that storms of this magnitude occur in the Northland about every two to four years, with numerous less powerful cells moving through more often, creating their own havoc.

Living on the edge

No one knows this better than those near the end of the line on Moose Lake east of Ely. Jim Sprowl has a seasonal residence there and learned early on that wild weather comes with the territory.

“At times it actually scary,” said Sprowl about his water-access cabin on top of a bluff. “We’ve seen trees at a 25 degree angle. It can be quite frightening in some of the big storms,” he added.

Sprowl says that along with the physical risk of living so remote, is the fact that electric service interruptions are something he’s come to expect.

“When I first bought the place, people said, ‘get used to it, it happens here at the end of the road,’” he said of when he purchased the cabin in 2010. “We don’t get all upset about it, just make sure we have gas for the generator; it’s nothing for us to sit around listening to nature … without TV.”

He’s been here before

Sprowl’s main residence is near Dayton, Ohio, but he’s no beginner. He had been coming to the BWCAW for more than 30 years before buying his property, and has seen first-hand the damage that a derecho can inflict.

“Back to the big blowdown in ’99, we had a canoe trip through that area and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Sprowl says.

But he’s quick to add that the danger and risk of occasional outages is a small tradeoff to the reason he chooses to invest in his slice of paradise at the end of the line — “The peacefulness, the remote, the wildlife and the fishing,” he says are well worth it.

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