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Kathryn Zahn, 18, of Minnetonka hangs up her sleeping bag along the softball field fence Thursday morning at the Willmar Senior High School. (Tribune photo by TJ Jerke)

Thursday rains flood tents, drench gear at Sonshine Festival in Willmar, Minn.

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WILLMAR -- The first day of music at the Sonshine Festival already lived up to the expectations many had before making the trip to the 30th annual Christian music festival.

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As rain pelted the tarps of the tents and campers early Thursday morning, a howling wind only made matters worse at the Willmar Civic Center grounds.

At 7:15 a.m. Thursday, the Willmar airport reported 0.78 inches of rain. By 10 a.m., sleeping bags, clothes and tarps were hanging out to dry on any place that was not wet -- which was hard to find.

The annual four-day Sonshine Festival draws some 20,000 to its gates, and an estimated 12,000 of those camp at the site.

Henry Cole, 19, of St. Paul was laying clothes on his tent lines as well as the high school field goal post which was already full of other clothes and sleeping bags.

His first year to the festival, Cole said he didn't mind the early morning storm.

"I enjoyed it," he said boasting a smile as he mentioned his waterproof tent. "I didn't get wet but some of my dirty clothes did."

Set up next to his friend Victoria Peterson, 18, of Inver Grove Heights, Peterson said she slept terribly because the wind kept pushing the side of the tent into her face.

"Last year was more crazy," Peterson said, referring to the Saturday night storm that prompted campers to take down their tents and take shelter as they braced themselves for high winds and hail.

Brady Heim, 19, of Hutchinson and Maggie Lussier, 19, of Montrose were drying off a table and grill shortly after staking a new tent they purchased following the heavy rain.

"There were puddles everywhere," Heim said. "Nobody wanted to sleep, so we decided to wait until the rain stopped to go buy a new tent."

Amber Lemne, 21, of Minnetonka and Kari Swanson, 21, of Chaska also struggled to sleep, waking up at 3:40 a.m., 6 a.m. and finally at 8 a.m. to wet sleeping bags and tent.

The two joked their tent wasn't set up properly by a friend, but still made it through the night.

"We slowly dried off as we went back to sleep," Lemne said.

The two were setting up a canopy they lowered Wednesday night, which the wind helped collapse completely by the morning.

Other canopies and tents could be seen mangled or in pieces around the festival grounds.

Ben Scherer of Grand Rapids, found his canopy legs broken in half. Scherer said the canopy, along with a flooded tent, made the night very interesting.

"It was terrible," he said. "I made the mistake of bringing my dad's ancient tent."

Scherer, along with his girlfriend Janelle Iwen of Merrill, Wis., said the weather doesn't matter because it is always expected to be either hot and humid or cool and damp.

When asked which climate he would prefer, he chose a wet festival.

"It rains every year, so we will take the rain," he said. "I pay 90 bucks to get wet and have a good time."

According to the National Weather Service, a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms is predicted before 1 p.m. today in Willmar, with a high near 86 and winds up to 13 mph.

A 40 percent chance of showers is predicted moving into tonight with a low around 73.

By Saturday, temperatures are expected to rise with a high near 92 degrees and just a 20 percent chance of showers.

The Thursday morning storm also brought back memories from last year for Kathryn Zahn.

Zahn, 18, from Minnetonka, was hanging up sleeping bags along the softball field fences Thursday morning.

She was reminded of the metal tent flying down the street last year that she helped nab before it smashed into cars parked along the street.

"Just have to fight through it," Zahn said. "It makes the festival more fun and quite the experience."

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