NEW ULM - Thunderstorms and lightning startled area residents early Wednesday morning and dumped nearly four inches of rain in the New Ulm area.
One casualty of the lightning was a very old catalpa tree in the 900 block of North German Street.
"The tree was hit by lightning. sometime between 12:30 and 1 a.m. It shook the house," said Maggie Schwab. "We smelled burning plastic. A neighbor across the street said he saw flames and smoke. It was so stormy, we went into the basement during much of the lightning and thunder that lasted for what seemed like an hour."
Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Lightning struck a catalpa tree in a front yard on North German Street in New Ulm early Wednesday morning, tossing bark, leaves and small branches in the yard.
Lightning blew recessed lights in the kitchen out of their sockets, Schwab said. Her front porch and yard were covered with pieces of tree bark, small branches and leaves. A large tree branch was split in the storm and lay suspended at a 90-degree angle to the tree trunk.
The tree protected Schwab about a dozen years ago when a drunk driver hit three parked cars nearby, jumped the curb and hit the tree.
"The tree just keeps on growing. Now, two of us can't get our arms all the way around the tree trunk," she said. "It's got beautiful wood and beautiful flowers,"
Catalpa is occasionally used as tonewood in guitars. The trees flower with large white blooms in spring or early summer, and they drop dark-brown bean pods in the fall.
Schwab was unsure on Wednesday whether the tree could be saved.
Several other trees in New Ulm were reported hit by lightning in the storm.
New Ulm received approximately 3 3/4 inches of rain Wednesday, bringing the total for June to 7.6 inches, compared to an average of 4.19 inches for the month.
The National Weather Service (NWS) reported two to six inches of rain fell overnight in Brown, Blue Earth and Nicollet counties, causing flooded roads and fields, rising rivers and streams.
The Cottonwood River at New Ulm was measured at 12.4 feet at 6 a.m. Wednesday, according to the NWS. It was forecast to crest at 12.5 feet later in the morning. At 11 feet, flood waters begin to impact low-lying areas and some roads along the river.
The Brown County Highway Department closed County Road 30, west of Highway 4. It also closed County Road 8 at 360th Street Tuesday (the old Minnesota River bridge) due to high river levels.
University of Minnesota, Nicollet County Extension Educator Christian Lillienthal said up to 22 inches or more of rain has fallen since the growing season began.
"Our area and to the south received lots more rain than we'd like to," Lillienthal said. "Swan Lake is much larger than normal. Storms often follow rivers, pulling up moisture from bodies of water. But commodity markets continue to drop. The prices don't represent what's going on around here."
South Central College Agriculture Instructor Wayne Schoper said temperatures in the 80s in the coming days should help crop development catch up to normal if it quits raining. "Certainly the drought is over with replenished subsoil moisture. I heard no hail reports," he said.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).