OWATONNA — Fairgoers had a slight scare on Tuesday afternoon that the Steele County Free Fair would be closed down before it even officially began when a severe weather alert — including a tornado warning — popped up around 3:45 p.m.
The fair crew had to advise those on the grounds to leave the fair or to seek shelter in a secure building such as the Four Seasons Centre. Fair Board President Dan Deml said that they had to postpone the opening ceremony until the weather cleared, though no one had an idea of when that would be.
“We were monitoring the storm closing with the Emergency Management System and Mike Johnson,” Deml said after what was considered the worst of the storm had been moving southeast of Owatonna. “There was a second cell in Waseca that could have brought more severe weather, so we had to watch it minute-to-minute until it blew over.”
Fortunately for all involved with the fair, the storms passed quickly and allowed vendors and carnival rides to quickly reopen. The opening ceremony was only delayed by a half hour.
The severe weather did result in a confirmed tornado around 4:30 p.m. just north of Ellendale.
“It was a brief one,” said Shawn Devinny, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, “not on the ground for more than a minute or two.”
Devinny said officials from the SCFF had been in touch with the weather service to see how the severe weather was going to move. Devinny said that “nothing severe” is expected to pop up throughout the rest of the week, adding that temperatures are going to be cooler with low chances of scattered showers.
The Color Guard presented the American flag to Dave Syverson — Superintendent of the Fair Store who will be retiring at the end of the 2019 fair — who accepted it on behalf of the fair board. The flag, along with a POW MIA flag, was raised in Fair Square marking the official opening of the fair.
The Owatonna Community Band performed on the United Prairie Bank Stage in Fair Square following the opening ceremony. The stage ended with a special reunion show from the Fabulous Love Handles, a popular cover band comprised of local musicians that aims to have fun and get people on their feet dancing.
Elsewhere in the fair, activities were able to continue on as usual. The human cannonball returned after a year hiatus from the SCFF as he shot from a cannon on the southeast side of the fairgrounds, the Moogician was able to dazzle the crowd while educating them about the importance of dairy on the Elmer Reseland Stage, the IMP Auto Cross show kicked off the Grandstand for the week, and the band Revenge of the 80’s rocked into the night in the Beer Garden.