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Tornado hits Wadena Monday, no damage reported in county

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Tornado sirens sounded on the streets of Wadena Monday night as the National Weather Service issued several tornado warnings for Wadena County. According to the NWS website, at 8:15 p.m. a local spotter took video of a brief funnel cloud touchdown 100 yards northwest of the intersection of US Highway 10 and County Highway 75, just over the Otter Tail County border to the west of Wadena. Observers had also previously spotted a funnel cloud for a short moment near New York Mills at around 7:50 p.m., but rain obscured their view of the cloud.

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NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Greg Gust said spotters saw the second funnel cloud touch down only for about five seconds. The twister would be classified as an F0 since the touchdown was so brief and there were no reports of damage, Gust said. There were three tornado warnings that affected different areas of Wadena County, Gust said: the first at 6:59 p.m. that stretched from northern Otter Tail County into southwestern Wadena County , then another at 7:41 p.m that extended from east central Otter Tail County to southern Wadena County and finally one for the southeastern part of Wadena County at 8:25 p.m.

Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr confirmed that no storm-related injuries or damage in the county were reported to the sheriff's office.

Although the tornado itself turned out to be relatively small, weather safety protocols went into effect across town Monday in reaction to the NWS warnings. The Severe Weather Safe Room completed earlier this year at Wadena-Deer Creek Middle/High School saw its first action that night but there was a slight hitch in the room's operation, Interim Police Chief Naomi Plautz said Tuesday. She said people seeking shelter mistakenly went to the school's main entrance at the south side of the building rather than the entrance to the safe room itself at the north side, but a WPD officer on scene redirected them to the right place.

The safe room door is designed to be opened remotely from the sheriff's office so that even when the main entrance doors to the school are locked, people can still take shelter in the safe room by going to the door on the north side.

At Tri-County Health Care, staff immediately evacuated the hospital's patients to safety as part of their tornado protocol. Each evacuation is planned once hospital staff become aware of a tornado watch, so they're ready to go as soon as a tornado warning is issued. On Monday, most patients were moved to an underground tunnel that runs from TCHC underneath Highway 71/Jefferson Street North to the old Wesley Hospital across the street, hospital officials said. Those patients whose condition prevented them from being evacuated from the hospital entirely were still moved to a recovery room at the center of the building, away from any exterior walls with a risk of flying glass or debris.

TCHC Emergency Services Director Allen Smith said the whole process took only 10 minutes. The protocol calls for the entire hospital staff to assist in patient evacuation, from doctors to housekeeping workers.

"We use all the staff that happens to be in-house," Chief Nursing Officer Kathy Kleen said. "For example, that evening it was about 7 o'clock at night, so we used housekeeping staff, administrative staff, lab staff, a fair amount from our ambulance department..."

When the NWS tornado warning expired, patients were moved back into their rooms, Smith said.

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