Mark Sealy, the great meteorologist with MPR and the University of Minnesota, has a rag-bag of interesting and colorful weather terms and names from around the world. One of his favorites is “Blowin’ a Hoolie,” I believe he said it was Irish, an expression or description of a particular kind of a forceful wind that blows so hard it rattles your windows, shakes your shutters and walls. A hooligan wind.
It has been two weeks since the storm of a half-century blew down a forty foot Jack Pine that lived up the cliff behind the one-man tent where Jasper and I live and damn near died.
It was three in the morning when the hoolie hit us from the northwest. It was a hammer made of 80 mph wind, sideways rain and constant lightning. The sounds were terrifying. Great large trees, thousands of them, were popping, snapping and crashing. Howling, tearing and ripping sounds roared in the night as people yelled for each other to get to safe places.
The breath taking sound of that big tree smashing down on hard ground three or four feet from our heads was terrifying. It scared the hell out of us. I threw on my headlamp, leashed Jasper, unzipped the mosquito netting and rain fly, got out of the tent and glanced at the branches of the tree that hit us. The pulsing lightning made it easy to see we had had a very close call. Like Dylan said in one of his songs, “I didn’t know whether to duck or run, so I ran.” Jasper and I ran for our lives.
We did not have far to flee to reach the shelter of good old Boat House on the shore of the Wilderness Center’s lake, beyond reach of any falling trees. Meanwhile there was chaos up on top of the ridge and in the woods where three residents had set up a tent camp called Bum Town. All three tents had been crushed. Leif, Nick and Big Jake made the decision to run for their lives just in time.
The great group of city people from Summit Academy were all camped in tents too. Most had never camped a day in their lives before arriving to set up their eight tents on the clover and grass field near the pond and Pond House cabin. The Hoolie utterly wiped out their camp and sent their tents flying wildly in the wind and into the woods, lightning, crashing sounds and rain. Again, no one was injured. It seems everyone one was running for his or her lives that night. The Summit crew reached Pond House safely though two large trees crashed on its roof.
Happy Acres, Logan Smith’s beautiful new cabin, was impaled. A large tree behind the cabin blew down with such authority one of its branches smashed through the metal roof, through the three quarter inch plywood below the metal and then on through the sheet rock ceiling. The branch came down like the Sword of Damocles, thrusting through, head high, at astonishing speed. Had Logan been standing in that spot, the jagged branch would have skewered his head like a shiskabob. Fortunately for him, he was standing a few feet away.
The next morning dawned bright, clear and windless. None of us had slept for more than a couple of hours, if that. Everyone was dazed. A strange silence took over our group as we came together for breakfast… a mixture of gratitude for simply being alive and vivid memory of recent terror. Now that’s a Hooligan Wind.
But there was work to do. Trees of all sizes, hundreds of them, were down on the Center’s mile long driveway. The Cloquet Line headed towards Ely looked like a direct hit. Miraculously the new solar array held its own, suffering no damage at all. What a test! By noon Logan and a crew had made the driveway passable. Another crew cleared the tree that missed Jasper and I.
At this point in time I was still a bit shocked by the whole experience and got the yipps as I looked up the hill behind my tent and the new Grand Hobo Lodge and spotted two large trees dead trees still standing in dangerous positions if they were to fall. I was still scared and asked Will if the two trees could be cut down. Will took a look and agreed they needed to go. He and Logan assessed the situation and made a plan. The breezes had picked up by now. Its direction was favorable to the direction of the desired drop and crash target.
The first tree to go was a very tall, very dead Jack Pine located half way up the cliff behind the fire pit in the middle of Hobo Village. Will and Logan agreed on a strategy for the cuts and Logan dropped it very near the center of the fire pit. Perfect.
The next tree, a big dead Birch, was located only six feet behind and even with the back wall of our brand new Grand Hobo Lodge. It had been a eye sore near the shore of Picketts Lake for years and Will was happy at the thought of getting rid of it for both aesthetic and safety reasons. Again Will and Logan made a plan to drop the tree about three feet behind and parallel to the back wall of the structure. A tricky proposition.
“The best laid schemes of mice an’ men often go awry.”
– Robert Burns 1785
The heavy Birch tree fell directly on the top of the lodge. It crushed many of the ceiling timbers and bent the top of the wall supports badly. It was a mess. But the tipi canvass survived with only a few small tears.
Thirty six hours later we cooked, served dinner to eighteen people as we celebrated life and told each other storm stories in the completely rebuilt and improved Grand Hobo Lodge.
Now that’s resilience.
Will Steger has been living and working on this land for fifty one years. Yesterday he told me that the storm at the wilderness was the largest and most violent he had ever seen there. It was a huge storm, stretching from southern Ontario to Duluth and even further south. One hundred and two mile per hour winds were clocked in Duluth that night. Two boy scouts were killed by falling trees in separate locations in the BWCA. Power was knocked out for days in wide spread locations. Gas stations were shut down. Thawing meat began to rot in grocery store freezers and coolers. Even 911 emergency communications were knocked out for days.
Will estimates cleanup and harvesting the blow downs will be a four-year project which will provide fire wood for the entire Center for at least that long. In addition, the harvest appears it will be quite large, yielding enough free milled lumber to completely build the new Dining Hall two summers from now. There is a bountiful side to all the destruction.
According to the meteorologists at NOAH, this storm “ had the fingerprints of global warming written all over it.” It is a good thing the Saturn Window in the Center is built to withstand wind speeds of over two hundred mph. It is going to need such strength as our planet continues to warm and as freak storms become both more frequent and more powerful.
It is good to be alive.
August 3, 2016
Story and Photos by John Ratzloff.