A fierce storm with high winds and baseball-sized hail tore through the area on the afternoon of Friday, July 19, with the worst damage south of Pine City in and around Rock Creek and along Highway 70.
Trees came down and brought power lines down with them, and the high winds flipped docks on the southwest shore of Pokegama Lake. The metal roof on one shed west of Rock Creek peeled up while the owner was working inside.
The hail broke through windows on homes and vehicles and ripped into vinyl siding, leaving the affected homes pockmarked with holes and tears.
For a few terrifying minutes drivers unlucky enough to be on the road as the storm came through were forced to pull over. Trapped in their vehicles, they watched and listened as hail pummeled their vehicles, cracking – and sometimes shattering – their windows.
That’s what happened to Shona Hughes and her young daughter as they were heading north on Highway 61 from Highway 70 toward Pine City.
“All of a sudden it changed from barely sprinkling to golf balls coming down,” Hughes said. “It started raining, and then there were sheets of ice.”
She pulled over, and things quickly went from bad to worse. The side mirrors shattered. Hughes and her daughter crawled into the backseat as hailstones punched at their windshield and the windshield mirror dropped off.
“There were glass shards everywhere,” she said. “The moon roof completely broke – the whole rectangle was open. There was water pouring in. Every time [a hailstone] fell on the car it was like a bomb.”
Hughes got her daughter onto the floor of the backseat. She covered her with her body and pushed items from the car into the windows to form a shield. Hughes tried to keep her daughter’s head protected.
“She was so scared,” Hughes said. “She looked at me and she said, ‘Mom, I love you. I just want you to know I love you.’ And it was so scary because she thought she was going to die.”
Hughes said the worst part of the storm lasted perhaps 10 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. When it was over, the car was no longer driveable and she had to call the Pine County Sheriff’s Office.
“It was so bad,” she said. “We were covered in glass – on our arms, in our hair. And the police, they got us and drove us home. When we got home, of course, our house was destroyed.”
Hughes has no windows on the north side where the storm struck hardest, but the damage to her home was still severe – siding torn up, the roof wrecked, items in the yard demolished. Even some of their belongings inside were destroyed.
“It hit so hard it knocked stuff off my walls of my house and shattered them on the ground,” she said.
And then, the stormchasing contractors started showing up.
“There have been so many of them,” she said. “Probably an hour after [the storm] happened, all of the neighbors and I were outside assessing and processing and there was already one putting stuff in our mailbox. And they haven’t stopped since. There are phone calls, knocks on the door, stuff in the mailbox. It just doesn’t stop.”
Hughes said that insurance will replace nearly everything, and that she feels pretty lucky to have gotten through the experience as she did.
Most importantly, her daughter is fine. Though the girl is nervous about ever driving in a car during a thunderstorm again, Hughes said that they have been helping each other look on the bright side.
“She’s pretty smart,” Hughes said. “She said, ‘You know, Mom, we’re OK. We still have a house.’ She sees that. That’s awesome.”