It was a hot, sunny day Tuesday — until it wasn’t.
In the mid afternoon, the skies greened and the weather seemed to change in a matter of minutes as heavy winds, rain, lightning and even hail hit McLeod County. Gusts around Hutchinson clocked in at just below 60 mph after 3 p.m., according to the National Weather Service, and lasted for about an hour. Thunderstorms were reported in Hutchinson for about as long, and in the vicinity until just before 8 p.m.
“We did have quite a bit of tree damage,” said Kevin Mathews, McLeod County Emergency Management director.
About 3 miles west of Hutchinson, Pam Rohde was in her farm home when the storm hit.
“When I saw it coming, I went down to my basement,” Rohde said. “By the time it got here, I couldn’t see across our driveway. It was blowing and raining so much.”
Rohde said 17 trees on her property were blown over, many with their roots ripped straight out of the ground.
“Our flagpole is supposed to be able to withstand 130 mph winds, and it was bending in the wind,” she said.
Mathews said that power lines also took a beating here and there, leaving 364 people without power.
“The heavier concentrations of damage are south of Hutchinson to down by Stewart and over by Brownton,” he said. “Brownton was the hardest hit city, probably. The south half of the city seems to have more damage.”
Reports include large trees snapped off at the base or uprooted, and damage to houses and cars from heavy branches. One 40-to-50-foot pine tree was pulled from the ground in one yard.
“With all the wet soil, that’s not totally surprising,” Mathews said. “Luckily it missed the house.”
As catch basins struggled to keep up, there was some flash flooding in Lester Prairie with water backed up into the street, but it quickly drained.
“There was one report of a possible tornado ... 4 miles north of Biscay,” Mathews said. “If it did touch down, it was in a field. We drove through afterwards and had several deputies in the area to look. We didn’t see any damage.”
There were two reports of golf ball-sized hail from sheriff’s deputies, one near State Highway 7, west of Silver Lake, and another on County Road 2, south of Silver Lake.
Mathews received no reports of injuries.
Meanwhile, damage was less severe in Hutchinson, but not everyone’s property escaped unscathed.
“There wasn’t a lot,” said John Olson, the city’s Public Works manager. “We had a few trees and limbs and stuff go down. There was one vehicle hit (by a branch) over on Roberts Road. There was a tree on a garage, some large limbs in yards. All things considered, we did pretty well.”
The city experienced isolated flash flooding, but nothing that lasted long. Olson estimated a half an inch of rain on the south side of town and a little more than an inch on the north side.
Liz Block was one of those who were not so lucky. Wind toppled a large tree onto her house and garage on the 300 block of Dale Street. Nobody but the dog was home. It wasn’t injured.
“I left for five minutes to pick up my daughter from day care and I came home to this,” Block said.
The 2019 Minnesota legislative session had highs and lows from the perspective of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
During its Statewide Policy Tour, the Minnesota Chamber stopped by Pride Solutions of Hutchinson Wednesday. Laura Bordelon, Chamber senior vice president of advocacy, spoke to a small crowd of business owners and leaders about the concluded session and future goals, and asked for local feedback on a variety of subjects.
Two main points Bordelon highlighted were the Chamber’s goals of making the state more affordable for businesses and families, and to move Minnesota out of the top 10 most taxed states. At 9.8 percent, Minnesota’s corporate tax is the fourth highest, and at 9.85 percent, Minnesota’s individual income tax is the fifth highest, she said.
One success in the most recent session, Bordelon said, was the 6 percent reduction in the state business property tax. Additionally, the second tier income tax rate was decreased from 7.05 percent to 6.8 percent.
“That’s good work,” she said. “These taxes build so much revenue for the state and it’s hard to knock them back because they’re used in programs.”
The assembled group was asked to vote digitally on what taxes most impacted their businesses. The No. 1 response was state and local property tax, followed by income tax. In 2020, the Chamber plans to lobby to reduce corporate taxes and all four individual income tax rates.
In the area of health care, the Chamber was pleased to see legislation calling for more transparency in the cost of hospital visits. The tax on providers of health care goods and services was lowered from 2 percent to 1.8 percent, a 10 percent change. The Chamber hoped to see the tax sunset but was pleased it was reduced.
Expansion of single-payer health care proposals was blocked — a win, according to the Chamber. It worries a single-payer approach would crowd the state’s health care sector.
When asked for their thoughts with a digital poll, locals attending the meeting were tied between two responses: some said they worried single-payer health care would increase wait times and limit access, others were for it if it reduced costs. Bordelon said that at a previous meeting, most in attendance were in favor of single payer if it reduced costs.
In 2020, the Chamber wants the state to establish a health policy commission to address costs and improve data privacy laws.
The Chamber does not like moves in Duluth, St. Paul and Minneapolis to establish workplace rules, such as a local minimum wage, within the municipality.
“Our sense is it’s the state’s decision to make,” Bordelon said.
She said it would be a “nightmare” for businesses to function in the state if operations included those three cities, as they would have to comply with a variety of ordinances.
The Chamber was pleased with a proposal in the DFL-controlled House calling for 12 weeks of medical leave with partial wage replacement and/or 12 weeks of family leave for newborn caregiving didn’t make it into law.
“This was alarming to us,” Bordelon said.
In addition to the concern of the expense, the Chamber worried the legislation would make it even harder for businesses to consistently fill employment gaps. Local manufacturers frequently report a need for more skilled employees.
A proposal mandating one hour of sick time for every 40 hours of work was also blocked.
Next year, the Chamber plans to lobby to dedicate the auto part sales tax to transportation needs. This follows a proposal from the governor to increase the gas tax by 20 cents, which wasn’t included in final omnibus legislation this year. The Chamber opposed the gas tax increase.
On the other hand, it was pleased to see legislation providing $40 million for broadband and child care grants, mostly for rural areas.
“Everywhere we go there aren’t enough child care spots,” Bordelon said.
When the Hutchinson group was given four choices to say what issues create challenges for their business, 53 percent highlighted a shortage of employees, 29 percent highlighted a housing shortage, 18 percent highlighted a child care shortage and 7 percent highlighted a lack of high speed internet access.
The locals were also asked about two other issues likely to be of concern in future legislative sessions: marijuana legalization and employee recruitment.
When given four options in a question about the legalization of marijuana, no one said it shouldn’t be legal in any context, 38 percent said it should only be for medical purposes, 50 percent said it should be legalized for recreational use and 13 percent said they didn’t know.
When asked to pick one of five sources for skilled, qualified workers as the preferred choice, those at the meeting selected in-house training and two-year schools as the most popular, with each at 33 percent. Another 22 percent preferred to recruit those from certificate or apprenticeship programs, and 11 percent preferred to recruit from four-year colleges.
Hutchinson residents who aren’t sure where their next meal will come from can stop by Faith Lutheran Church.
On the building’s southeast side beside the parking lot is a wooden box on a pole made to look like a small house. A collection of nonperishable food is inside, including beans, soup, peanut butter and more. There’s also flyers listing community meals in the area and a smaller box to submit prayer requests. Anyone can use the blessing box.
“The idea came from Christ the King (Lutheran Church),” said Dave Wollan a pastor at Faith Lutheran. “They inspired us and other places in town.”
In addition to Faith Lutheran and Christ the King, another blessing box can be found at Our Savior’s, with more in the works around Hutchinson.
“It’s kind of like the mini libraries but meeting a different need,” said Mollie Terlinden, a member of Faith Lutheran Church’s World Ministry Team.
The blessing boxes are meant to provide a free place for anyone to pick up what they need for a meal if they need one. Terlinden said someone may have the need when the food shelf in Hutchinson isn’t open, or when they can’t make it there. She’s also heard from teachers that some kids worry about having regular meals when on summer break from school.
“The kids may not know how to reach the food shelf or how to get there during the right hours,” Terlinden said. “Here they can come get a meal or a snack and not have so much anxiety.”
Wollan said that as part of the Hutchinson Leadership Institute, his volunteer group wanted to bring more blessing boxes to Hutchinson. That’s how he came to tell the church’s World Ministry Team about the boxes.
“The team stepped up and made it happen,” he said.
Randy Roepke, a member of the team, built the box.
“He was retired, and he said, ‘I think I can do this,’” Terlinden said. “He built it and then he worked with the city to find an appropriate location. We wanted it to be some place where people could come up to it without feeling like all eyes were on them. So while we’re on Main Street and very visible, we wanted it off to the back. ... That’s a pretty vulnerable moment if you need to take food.”
Anyone who wants to drop off food for the box is encouraged to bring it inside the church so those at the office can keep track of what is available and rotate a variety as needed. The church’s World Ministry Team will help manage the box and take turns looking after it and retrieving the prayer requests left inside.
“As a congregation, I think everyone has stepped up,” Terlinden said.