Winter slams into North Dakota while tornadoes and hail blast the Great Lakes and beyond

Thursday, October 25th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FARGO, N.D. (AP) _ A ferocious storm surprised many across the nation's midsection, burying parts of North Dakota under snow and battering the Great Lakes with hail and powerful wind.

The destruction reached as far south as Tennessee, where 70 mph wind toppled a tree into a Red Bank apartment Wednesday night, killing a 4-year-old girl and critically injuring her mother.

Grand Forks was hit by an 11-inch blizzard, and highways remained blocked by snow and stalled vehicles Thursday morning.

Highway Patrol Trooper Steve Kirchoffner finally got off duty at around 2 a.m., ending an 18-hour shift of trying to aid hundreds of stuck drivers on Interstate 29.

``We had to kind of make our way _ just kind of weave your way in and out of the vehicles, and kind of make your own trail, so to speak,'' he said.

Authorities said 400 vehicles on the route were stuck north of Fargo, and at least two snowplows were hit by trucks. A passenger was killed in a minivan rollover.

``I was just going to meet my mother in Grand Forks, and I was just about there at noon, and I've been sitting here ever since,'' motorist Mike Staffne said Wednesday night.

A three-vehicle crash on Interstate 94 near Jamestown killed one person and injured three.

``I've never seen it this bad in October,'' said Linda Brown, whose family joined in shovel duty Wednesday night.

In northern Indiana, one person died after being hurled several hundred yards by a tornado. Some 14 others were injured.

``We've had homes leveled,'' LaPorte County Sheriff's Capt. Gary Broling said.

In Michigan's Lower Peninsula, more than 30,000 homes and businesses were still without power Thursday morning.

Wind gusts exceeding 70 mph destroyed eight mobile homes south of Tekonsha, Mich., said John Townsend, director of the Calhoun County Office of Emergency Services. Seven people were treated for minor injuries.

To the south, at least 25,000 customers in Ohio lost power. Seventy of Ohio's 88 counties were under a tornado watch Wednesday evening, but no injuries were reported and the state avoided heavy damage.

About 3,200 of the 15,000 Illinois Power Co. customers who lost power were still in the dark Thursday morning, power company spokeswoman Shirley Swarthout said. Most of the affected customers live in the central Illinois town of Monticello, where a tornado tore the roof off a church, damaged businesses and apartment buildings and uprooted 100-year-old trees.

About 25,000 Nashville Electric Service customers were temporarily without power Wednesday night.

Four-year-old Amy Dutton was killed about midnight as she slept in the arms of her mother. A 60-foot-tall tree crashed through the roof and walls of their one-story apartment in the Chattanooga suburb, police said.

``She never knew what hit her,'' police Lt. Dan Dyer said Thursday.

Dyer said the tree was about 3 feet across, and the base had been halfway eaten by carpenter ants.

Lori Dutton, 41, was in critical condition Thursday.

Meteorologists predicted more of the same as the storm system pushed eastward Thursday. Snow squalls were forecast in much of the Upper Midwest, especially the Michigan's Upper Peninsula and parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The blizzard already left nearly a foot of snow in some parts of Minnesota.

In Wisconsin, a rare October hailstorm battered Racine, denting car hoods, smashing skylights and leaving hills of ice on some yards, while nearby blocks remained untouched.

Meteorologist Rusty Kapela described it as an elevated convection storm, caused by warm, unstable air above cool, stable air. There have been only three such hailstorms in Wisconsin since 1994, he said.

In North Dakota, the 10.8-inch snowfall set a record in Grand Forks, topping the earlier mark of 8.2 inches in 1926. Devils Lake and Cavalier reported 10 inches each Wednesday.

Weather service officials said they had no figures on a statewide record snow for October. But Bismarck got hit with a record 23.7 inches in October 1991, and Williston had a record 14.2 inches in October 1985.

``I just attribute it to a storm system,'' state climatologist John Enz said. ``In weather, if you just wait long enough, rare events happen.''