Thunderstorms knock out power to thousands in upper Midwest

MINNEAPOLIS Fri Jun 21, 2013 6:59pm BST

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MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Severe storms producing wind gusts up to 85 mph, heavy rain and lightning strikes in Minnesota and Wisconsin early on Friday, knocked down trees and power lines and at one point left more than 176,000 customers without power.

An area stretching from the Dakotas through Wisconsin was bracing for more storms, some severe, later on Friday and possible flooding after reports of three to four inches of rain fell in some communities already, the National Weather Service said.

"The weather pattern is pretty much going to be stationary tonight and through the weekend so we are concerned about the severe weather and also the potential for flooding," said Jacob Beitlich, a weather service meteorologist in the Twin Cities.

The storms developed in the Dakotas and powered southeast through Minnesota into Wisconsin, bringing heavy straight-line wind damage with a gust of 85 mph at the heart of it northwest of the Twin Cities, he said.

The weather service also has issued a severe thunderstorm watch for parts of eastern Iowa stretching across northwest Illinois to just west of Chicago.

Peak power outages consisted of about 156,000 Xcel Energy customers in Minnesota and about 20,000 in Wisconsin after the storms passed through. Other providers reported scattered outages in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"Most of this is related to the strong winds bringing down branches and trees and doing a lot of damage to the system," Xcel spokeswoman Patti Nystuen said, adding that some customers could remain without power into Saturday.

By midday Friday, about 61,300 Xcel customers were still without power in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bob Burgdorfer)

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