Duluth storm damage draws a crowd

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DULUTH — A day after strong waves battered Duluth's shoreline, tourists and residents ventured out to see the storm damage for themselves on Saturday, Oct. 28.

The Lakewalk in Canal Park was a popular place with a steady stream of people stopping to see the boardwalk ripped up by the waves and buried in rocks on Friday. Up the shore from the Lester River, where a group of surfers enjoyed the waves on Saturday, families walked along Brighton Beach, stopping to take pictures and pick through the new layer of rocks the waves had pushed onto the beach.

At McQuade Small Craft Harbor between Duluth and Two Harbors, the damage included a dislodged segment of the breakwall path, leaving exposed boulders that people carefully made their way across while walking to the end.

"The gales of November came early," Duluth resident Jim Getchell said at Brighton Beach. His wife, Mary Getchell, chimed in, "It's part of Duluth. We love Duluth. We like the outdoors, the four seasons ... well, the three seasons we have, actually." Jim added, "Duluth will recover, as it always does."

Friday's storm caused damage and flooding all around western Lake Superior, with wind gusts in excess of 60 mph on top of already-high lake levels combining to build big waves.

Duluth city officials closed large parts of the Duluth Lakewalk and Brighton Beach on Friday because of storm damage, before reopening some of those areas on Saturday. U.S. Highway 2 west of Ashland reopened Saturday morning after being closed for more than a day because of flooding along the shore of Chequamegon Bay.

The storm also brought heavy snow — 10.6 inches total at the Duluth International Airport, a new daily record for Duluth in October. The Duluth Police Department reported that it handled about 40 storm-related crashes on Friday.

Lake-effect snow continued Saturday in parts of Northwestern Wisconsin; the National Weather Service reported 13.5 inches of snow at Gile as of midafternoon.

On the Lakewalk on Saturday, Duluth resident Dave Wheat pointed to a bench that was nearly buried to its seat in debris, noting that it's going to take a lot of cleanup to get it back to normal, while his wife, Ginger Wheat, talked about damage reports she heard from Brighton Beach.

"Lake Superior speaks again. We love it," Dave said.

It feels too early for the cold weather to arrive — they were sitting outside on their deck three days ago, Ginger said. Saturday's high in Duluth was just 29 degrees — 17 degrees below normal.

Friday's storm felt like a "fast transformation" from the summer days when Jim and Mary Getchell would sit along the lake in chairs they would place on rocks now underwater at Brighton Beach, Jim said, adding that "Mother Nature has reclaimed." He noted that it's too bad the damage is now going to add additional costs to the city budget when it's already tight.

"But we're fortunate relative to the floods in Houston and the hurricane damage. This is the extent of the damage we're going to get from Mother Nature so even though it's bad, it's nothing like what we see in other parts of the country," he said.

Kyle Zrenchik drove from the Twin Cities to Duluth a few days ago with his husband for their honeymoon and his first visit to the Northland. He was taking photos of the waves when they stopped at McQuade harbor on their way to Lutsen on Saturday.

They had witnessed the weather change from clear to a winter storm while staying at Canal Park Lodge in Duluth, where they could hear the large waves crashing while inside the hotel, he said.

"I honestly thought it was going to be fall leaves and it was going to be nice. No, it's cold and wet and crazy," he said with a laugh. "It's fun in its own raw way, and it gave me some excellent pictures."

At McQuade, rocks and tree branches littered the grass, and riprap was strewn over the sidewalk and into the harbor basin. Large waves were still striking the rocky shore and hitting the sidewalk, creating a thin layer of ice in places.

"I had no idea that lake waves could move these gigantic, huge rocks. It's really devastating. We just put in our backyard boulders like this, and they had to be installed with skid steers and things like that, so to see just waves being able to toss them 30 feet is incredible. I can't believe it," Zrenchik said.

Duluth city crews worked to reopen parts of the Lakewalk on Saturday — including the stretch from Endion Station to the Fitger's Brewery Complex. The section behind the hotels in Canal Park — along with Brighton Beach — remained closed Saturday because of significant damage and debris caused by waves, officials said.

There will be a few chances for light snow or a rain-snow mix in the Northland starting today and continuing through the workweek, the Weather Service reported.

Snow leaders

Top storm snow totals reported to the National Weather Service in Duluth as of Saturday afternoon. Snow continued to fall in some locations in Northwestern Wisconsin, so these are not necessarily final amounts.

• 13.5 inches — Gile

• 10.9 inches — Scanlon

• 10.6 inches — Duluth airport

• 10.5 inches — Mellen

• 10.3 inches — Finland

• 10.1 inches — Holyoke

• 10 inches — Bennett

• 9.5 inches — Cloquet, Isabella

• 9 inches — South Range