DULUTH — A vigorous lake storm brought close to 2 inches of rain and wind gusts as high as 74 mph to the Twin Ports on Monday, Oct. 21, leaving trees down, flooding near Lake Superior and thousands of businesses and residents without power.
Access to Duluth's Park Point neighborhood was limited to only emergency vehicles for about an hour Monday evening as city officials determined water levels were too deep on both sides of the bridge for safe travel. Residents in the neighborhood were asked to stay home, and those wanting to return home were told to wait.
"The Park Point residents who are not home, please be patient and allow water levels to decrease," public information officer Kate Van Daele wrote in a news release shortly after 6 p.m.
The action was rescinded at 7 p.m. as water levels receded quickly, said Lieut. Ken Zwak of the Duluth Police Department during an after-hours news conference.
As of 8:30 p.m., fewer than 2,000 Minnesota Power customers were without electricity, according to the utility's outage map. That was down from a height of 9,000 customers earlier in the day, said Kelley Eldien, spokeswoman for the utility, during the 7:30 p.m. City Hall news conference. Although power was being restored quickly, electricity might not be fully restored in the region until Tuesday morning, Eldien said.
The "shelter-in-place" order was broadcast to cell phones throughout the region through the St. Louis County Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, said Dewey Johnson, the county's emergency operations manager. The county has had the system for 2 1/2 years, Johnson said, but had never used it before Monday.
Steven Yasgar, who lives with his girlfriend just across the bridge in a rented home near the South Pier Inn, tweeted to friends that he hadn't been allowed to walk across. He told the News Tribune he later convinced officers to allow him to walk across, although they warned him "not to get swept away."
"It was pretty bad around Vikre," Yasgar said. "The water was about knee-high."
While talking to a reporter from his home, Yasgar reported that cars were starting to move across the bridge again.
A portion of Canal Park Drive and Buchanan and Morse streets in Canal Park were closed earlier in the day, along with Brighton Beach on Duluth's east side.
Tom Mackay said he grew up on Park Point, and he's lived in his house on the bay side since 1977. Monday's water level was the highest he had ever seen — five inches over his dock, compared to the inch and a half that he noted in the November 1985 storm that beached the freighter Socrates. "It doesn't seem like it would make much of a difference but five inches is an incredible difference," he said.
Also, 131st Avenue West in the Fond du Lac neighborhood was closed at state Highway 23.
Glenn Merrick, who has lived in the Gary-New Duluth neighborhood since 2004, said water covered the Lake Superior & Mississippi rail line causeway over Mud Lake during the height of the storm. It was the highest he'd ever seen the water there, Merrick said.
"I've seen waves breaking on the rails before," he said. "(But) there were 2-feet waves passing over the causeway. You could not see the causeway there."
The Fond du Lac campground at Chambers Grove, the ground around an apartment building near Boy Scouts Landing and an RV park were all underwater, Merrick said.
"These seiche events, they're really highlighting the high-level waters on Lake Superior and the potential damage to all the boat landings and personal property," Merrick said, using the term for a temporary disturbance in the water level.
At an earlier news conference in front of a flooded parking lot in Canal Park, Van Daele said that little damage had been reported so far, apart from downed trees blocking roadways. Police were directing traffic and helping motorists navigate city streets, she said.
The city had not received reports of damage to the Lakewalk, Van Daele said, though crews will be out Tuesday to survey the area.
Duluth East High School parents received an automated message about 3 p.m. notifying them that the school had lost power, though East has backup generators and the school day was expected to continue normally. After-school activities were canceled, according to the message.
Police, utility and street department workers were scrambling to keep up with a larger number of trees, limbs and power lines down. About 4 p.m., a large maple tree was uprooted in the 2800 block of Wicklow Street in Lincoln Park.
The tree fell across the residential street and hit a house occupied by Vicki Aubol.
"I was sitting in my chair looking out the front window and heard a big crash," she said. "I jumped."
Lake Superior is more than 7 inches higher than it was last year in October, when storms caused major shoreline problems, and all that extra water could mean even more trouble as this fall's gales rage.
The lake is less than an inch from its highest mark on record, set in October 1985.
The official lake level is an average of multiple readings across the lake's surface, not just a single point. The level in Duluth, for example, already has topped the record level, but other locations have not.
Even if records aren't set, the lake level is unusually high — 14 inches above normal October levels — and is expected to stay higher than normal all winter. Heavy snows or spring rains could keep it high well into 2020 as well.
Josh Sandstrom, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Duluth, said highest sustained wind speeds on Monday at the Duluth International Airport were 41 mph. The 74 mph wind gust occurred on the Blatnik Bridge, he said.
The weather service had been tracking the storm and had been expecting strong winds and rain, Sandstrom said. But the level of the wind gusts near the lake was higher than expected.
Winds had died down by mid-evening, Sandstrom said. Gusty winds are expected to redevelop in the Twin Ports and Northwestern Wisconsin during the day Tuesday, but aren't as expected to be nearly as strong as Monday's winds, he said.
John Myers, Barrett Chase and Steve Kuchera of the News Tribune contributed to this story.