WILLMAR -- High winds whipped up clouds of topsoil, snapped tree limbs and kept firefighters on alert and farmers on edge through much of Wednesday.
Today, farmers are likely scouting their fields to see what damage the sand blasting might have inflicted on newly emerged crops.
"The winds are a concern, especially to our sugar beet producers,'' said Wes Nelson, Farm Service Agency director in Kandiyohi County, as winds of 30 to 35 miles per hour were being reported.
The National Weather Service issued a special alert early Wednesday afternoon for Lac qui Parle, Chippewa, Yellow Medicine and Kandiyohi counties. Wind gusts as high as 50 miles per hour were clocked in the four counties, and there were areas where the blowing topsoil had reduced visibility to less than two miles, according to the Weather Service.
The high winds and the problems they created were widespread: The Meeker County Sheriff's Department reported that trees were knocked down along County Road 1.
In Renville County, the Sheriff's Department reported that firefighters responded to at least three fires, including one near the Kandiyohi County line.
It will take a day or more for farmers to scout their fields and assess what damage the winds might have caused to sugar beets in the area, and whether they will need to replant some acres, according to Ken Dahl, agronomist with the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative. The sugar beets are vulnerable to wind damage until they reach the four- to five-leaf stage, he said.
Many sugar beet farmers are planting oats and other cover crops, or using minimum tillage to keep residue on the fields. These practices can go a long ways toward protecting the young plants, said Byron Hogberg, Farmer Service Agency director in Renville County.
Hogberg toured parts of Renville County Wednesday and reported that the winds were chasing up dark clouds of soil. He heard concerns from farmers about the winds. The cool, windy spring has dried the top 2 to 3 inches of soil and is causing some stress to the newly planted soybean and corn crops, he noted.
"We need a good shot of rain,'' said Hogberg.
A "real contrast in air masses'' triggered the powerful winds, according to Bryon Paulson of the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen. An air mass with temperatures in the 60s in the Dakotas was pressing into the 90-degree plus air over much of southern Minnesota.
"Great differences in temperature can cause large differences in (barometric) pressure and hence strong winds,'' said Paulson.