DALTON, Minn. — The Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office has identified the man killed in a tornado Wednesday evening, July 8.
Seth Nelson, 30, of rural Battle Lake, Minn., died when the shop he was working in collapsed during one of the tornadoes that struck southeast Otter Tail County.
The sheriff's office said the National Weather Service classified the tornado Nelson died in as category three on the enhanced Fujita scale — meaning it had wind speeds between 136 and 165 mph.
Authorities said two tornadoes touched down in Otter Tail County Wednesday evening, creating a 6-9 mile path of damage in the southeastern part of the county.
ASHBY, Minn. — At least one person has died after a vicious tornado tore through the countryside and lakes country southeast of Fergus Falls in Otter Tail County Wednesday night, July 8.
Dennis Schmidt, chairman of the Eagle Lake Township board, said he watched the tornado from a hill near his farm and said he knows the man who died.
He said the man was working in his shop when it collapsed on him. Schmidt wouldn't give the man's name, knowing that his next of kin likely had not been notified.
The Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office verified the fatality in a Facebook post later in the night. The post said at least two other people were taken to hospitals with conditions that were unknown.
The sheriff's emergency operations team completed searching an area near Dalton in a stretch of about 6 to 9 miles and no one was known to be missing Wednesday night, the post said.
Emergency responders were blocking off traffic in the area as first responders with the Ashby Fire Department were going door to door checking on other rural residents after the tornado hit at about 5:20 p.m.
Roads were closed to the public throughout the area as homes and buildings were destroyed and trees were down, Schmidt said.
"There's insulation and tin all over the place," he added.
Nick Carletta, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, said the tornado that was possibly as wide as 500 yards at some points was one of the worst in the area in several years.
He said it could be on top of the scale for tornadoes, which would be an EF5.
"From preliminary evidence, it could be from an EF3 to an EF5," Carletta said. A NWS meteorologist was on the scene examining the damage.
An EF3 classification means wind speeds reached 136 mph, and if it was an EF5 the wind was over 200 mph.
Carletta said the meteorologist saw at least one home lifted from its foundation which would mean it was on the higher end of the tornado scale.
Residents had one minute between when the sirens went off and when the tornado touched down.
Preliminary information shows the tornado likely started 6 miles SW of Dalton around 5 p.m. and ended 6 miles ESE of Dalton around 5:30 p.m. It reportedly crossed I-94 without affecting vehicles.
The tornado had "multiple touchdowns," he said.
The tornado touched down west of Ashby, a town about 20 miles southeast of Fergus Falls, then crossed Interstate 94.
It moved northeast and touched down again southeast of Dalton, or about 11 miles southeast of Fergus Falls, then moved to the area south of Battle Lake.
A tornado warning for the area was issued at 5:08 p.m., Carletta said, and was lifted at 6 p.m. as the storm moved eastward.
"It was a bad one," Schmidt said about the twister he watched from about four miles away.
Carletta said it could have been on the ground for as long as 30 minutes.
"I watched it go down, then it would hit the water and go up and then back down again," Schmidt said.
He said the Sewell Lake area in south-central Otter Tail County, about six miles southeast of Dalton, was one of the hardest hit areas.
The tornado came on the heels of another storm with dangerous winds that hit in Otter Tail County earlier on Wednesday morning. The winds from that storm flipped over campers in a campground near the town of Ottertail, farther north than the storm later Wednesday.