Rounds of strong thunderstorms sparked flash flooding in parts of the Northland on Monday night - in some of the same areas hit hard by flooding in 2012.

Late Monday, the National Weather Service warned of “potentially catastrophic flooding” in an area stretching from the Brainerd Lakes area east toward Carlton and Pine counties, and across much of Northwestern Wisconsin. Radar estimates and spotter reports Tuesday morning indicate that some areas received in excess of 8 inches of rain; the rain has ended, but runoff from the storms is set to cause some river flooding in the coming days.

As of Tuesday morning, there were reports of numerous highway closures in Northwestern Wisconsin due to flooded roadways, including:

  • U.S. Highway 2 near the Ashland-Iron county line
  • State Highway 13 near Highbridge
  • U.S. Highway 63 near Grand View
  • State Highway 137 near Ashland
  • State Highway 169 near Highway 2
  • State Highway 122 near Highway 2
  • State Highway 77 east of Minong

The closures to Highways 2, 13 and 63 mean major-road access to the Ashland, Washburn and Bayfield areas is largely cut off from the south and east - as of Tuesday morning only Highways 2 and 13 to the west remained open. 

There were at least two large washouts on Highway 13 in the Highbridge area between Mellen and Ashland. Those - along with some washed-out side roads - had left some residents stranded Tuesday morning, with no open roads to leave the "island" created by floodwaters.

The Ashland County Sheriff's Office reported Tuesday morning that "there are still dangerous areas everywhere in the county. Please exercise extreme caution while traveling today. Our dispatchers and ... officers have been overwhelmed with calls."

Lana Froemming reported encountering several washouts Tuesday morning as she tried to find an open route from Ashland to Hayward. She reported that some of the washouts on less-traveled roads remain unmarked as local crews are still working to catch up on the numerous trouble spots - and that if drivers see water in the ditches, they should be on the lookout for washouts or undermined pavement.

The Iron County Sheriff Office urged drivers to use "extreme caution as all roads have not been checked and may be washed out, flooded or impassable." 

Elsewhere in the Northland, the Weather Service relayed reported from local authorities of "widespread road closures and washouts" in the Moose Lake, Barnum, Sandstone, McGregor and Danbury areas.

The Pine County Sheriff's Office reported Tuesday morning that there was some water on Interstate 35 between Hinckley and Sandstone, but the freeway was open; the southbound lanes had been closed at one point overnight in that area. The Minnesota Department of Transportation reported at midday Tuesday that State Highway 23 near Bruno was closed due to flooding, with I-35 as the detour.

There were numerous other washouts and closures reported across Pine County; find a list here.

A flood warning is in effect for the Mississippi River at Aitkin, which is forecast to crest at 17.9 feet tonight. The Weather Service reported that at 18 feet, water inundates the Aitkin sewage plant.

Mike Stewart, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Duluth, said Monday’s storms formed over and over again along a stationary front that wobbled north and south a bit, but for the most part remained parked across central Minnesota during the afternoon and evening hours.

Moose Lake was among the communities where the torrential rainfall overwhelmed storm sewers and forced street closures during the evening hours. A weather spotter a couple miles from town reported 4.7 inches of rain as of 8 p.m. Monday, with more on the way.

The city, located on the shore of Moosehead Lake, is vulnerable to flooding as runoff from a wide area to the north is funneled into the Moose Horn River and the lake. That’s what happened four years ago, when floodwaters from the river and lake inundated homes, the school and other buildings.

“That’s why we had a meeting tonight, right away, to plan for (Tuesday)” in case the waters continued to rise, Mayor Ted Shaw said Monday night. “We wanted to be sure that we are as ready as we can be. ...

“Last time, it came up so fast that we weren’t ready for it, and you just kind of scramble. Now we put together a plan, just to start prioritizing - what are the key things that we learned from the last flood, that we would use now on our key infrastructure items to save them before they flood?”

City officials were going to continue monitoring the situation overnight. Elsewhere in the region on Monday night:

  • Streams were at or above their banks in Superior and there were reports of some street flooding, with floodwaters also reportedly over some roads south of the city.
  • Street flooding was reported in Washburn and Ashland.
  • The Aitkin County Sheriff's Office reported that state Highway 27-65 was underwater in the Dads Corner area. 
  • The National Weather Service relayed reports of roads flooded by the Rice River in central Aitkin County, and a car reportedly was seen being moved by foot-deep floodwaters along County Road 12 southeast of Aitkin.

Rain totals relayed by the National Weather Service in Duluth through Tuesday morning included:

  • 10 inches near Wascott
  • 9.65 inches near Saxon, west of Hurley
  • 8.21 inches near Seeley, north of Hayward
  • 7.55 inches near Drummond
  • 6.24 inches near Clam Lake
  • 5.75 inches near Hayward
  • 5.49 inches near Breezy Point in Crow Wing County
  • 5.20 inches near Ashland
  • 5.14 inches near Willow River
  • 4.41 inches near Grantsburg
  • 4.31 inches at the Brainerd airport
  • 3.51 inches at Aitkin
  • 3.27 inches near Minong
  • 2.91 inches near Maple
  • 2.59 inches in Ashland

A weather spotter in Barnes reported 4.5 inches of rain between 5 and 7 p.m., and a spotter near Superior reported in excess of 5 inches of rain with more falling.

Duluth saw heavy rain but dodged the worst of the storms, with 2.27 inches of rain at the airport through Tuesday morning. Areas to the north saw significantly less rain - International Falls reported only 0.01 inches of rain.

Storm damage

In addition to the heavy rain, there were some reports of other severe weather in the Northland on Monday.

There were reports of trees down east of Hayward as storms moved through just before 7 p.m. Earlier in the day, storms knocked down trees and power lines in the Sandstone area at about 3:15 p.m. At one point, more than 3,000 Minnesota Power and Lake Country Power customers were without service.

Farther to the south, there were reports of tornadoes in central Minnesota on Monday evening. Twin Cities media outlets relayed reports of damage caused by tornado touchdowns in Litchfield and Watkins, southwest of St. Cloud. There were unconfirmed reports of some injuries.

Check back to duluthnewstribune.com for updates.

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