BYRON, Minn. — Around 40 cattle drifted away from their pasture early Friday from the swelling of the Zumbro River.
That's the approximation that deputies got from the farmer around 6 a.m., said Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson. He said it happened near farmland located next to Oxbow Park just north of Byron, about 10 miles west of Rochester, and that a couple of farms have pastureland right along the branch of the river.
Torrential rains — as much as 7 inches in some locations — swamped parts of southeast Minnesota into Friday morning, closing highways, roads and businesses, and causing yet-untold property and crop damage.
"I imagine a farmer got up and was going to do some chores," said Torgerson. "And went out to see a pasture full of water and no cattle."
Some of the cows were seen downstream hours later, he said, but in a place where the river is too high to attempt any kind of recovery. None of the cows had been recovered as of 2 p.m. Friday.
"We've spotted some, but we can't get a full count and we can't get close to them yet," he said.
A video posted online by Donny Ehlenfeldt of Byron showed multiple cows drifting down the river on the current. Torgerson watched the video for the first time Friday afternoon, and was shocked by the sight.
Facebook comments on the post later appeared to say or show some of the cows made it back to land.
U.S. Highway 52 near Pine Island, north of Rochester, was closed Friday afternoon due to water over the road. Traffic there is being detoured to U.S. Highway 63, to the east.
Among other closures, U.S. Highway 63 south of U.S. 52 is closed because of water over the road, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. MnDOT also noted on Twitter that water lay over the roadway on U.S. Highway 14 west of Kasson. “The roadway remains open for now but folks are being directed to slow down,” MnDOT tweeted.
The National Weather Service reported an official total of 4.95 inches of rain at Rochester International Airport since 1 a.m. That rainfall, the highest daily total ever recorded in Rochester in the month of June, and the sixth-wettest daily tally for any month, briefly flooded the airport’s runways.
The NWS also reported “very heavy rainfall of 4 to 7 inches” across portions of Dodge, Olmsted and Fillmore counties, resulting in flash flooding.
The worst may be yet to come. Overnight, the NWS issued a flood warning overnight in Rochester, where the South Fork Zumbro River, at 37th Street Northwest, was expected to rise 2 feet past the 14-foot flood stage later today. As of 7:15 a.m., the river measured 10.3 feet. The river was expected to fall back below flood stage by Saturday morning.
"All of Dodge County’s water dumps into Olmsted," said Capt. Mike Bromberg, Olmsted County's director of Emergency Management. "Every last drop of it."
Rochester International Airport got around 5 inches of rain in a six-hour period Friday morning, according to the National Weather Service. Torgerson said the area surrounding Oxbow Park floods whenever there is a heavy batch of rain, which he estimated to be about once every two years.
But for cattle to be swept away from the area is rare, he said.
"This is the first time I've heard of cows going down the river from that area," said Torgerson. "And I've been around here for over 30 years."