Minnesota isn’t normally considered to be tornado alley, though we do get our share, especially here in southern Minnesota. Yesterday started off extremely humid and quite warm. As the morning wore on, it became very uncomfortable outside, and by around 11:00 the news was going around that there had been a heavy hailstorm some fifty miles north of here. It was just a ways south of the Twin Cities, in and around the New Prague and Northfield area. We heard a story that at one manufacturing plant in Northfield, which employs hundreds of people, the storm hit the parking lot, breaking most of the glass in nearly all the vehicles parked there. This was important news for us in the auto glass business, for sure!
Apparently that storm was a southern tail of a larger area of storms going through the Twin Cities, which caused street flooding at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on what was the first day of this year’s fair.
The afternoon in this part of the state proceeded rather uneventfully, with warm temperatures that seemed much hotter because of the nearly 100% humidity. We knew that those conditions meant we were probably under the gun for severe weather in the near future.
Around 5:00 the storms started firing up some 10 to 15 miles north of Mankato. Small, puffy cumulous clouds exploded in just a few minutes into supercells, with tornados forming and falling apart very quickly in many cases. Our local TV station has a camera high on a tower at their station that they trained on an area about ten miles off to the northwest up the Minnesota River valley and got some tremendous footage of a tornado forming, showing three or four vortexes, then quickly dissipating. Storm chasers were dispatched to go out and watch the storms and report back to the TV station. Within the first 15 minutes or so, a possible F3 tornado plowed through the little town of Nicollet, damaging or destroying 12 to 20 homes, continuing on east along Highway 99 towards St. Peter, which was devastated by a similar tornado back in 1998. Several more homes and farms along that route were damaged or destroyed, and the Oshawa Township hall was obliterated
As the tornado approached St. Peter, it turned a little bit towards the south, and passed just south of town, south of the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center, wiped out a stand of trees for a quarter mile along Highway 169, crossed the river, damaged houses on the north edge of Kasota, and moved along slowly south of Highway 99 towards the little town of Cleveland, wrecking homes, farms, and lives that got in its way.
During this time, my wife and I sat in our living room watching the storm coverage on the local TV station. We saw on the radar how the storms were moving east, and the whole system was drifting to the south. Towns like Le Center, Waterville, Morristown, Faribault, and Elysian all came under fire by the twisters. I was very concerned, because it was extremely hot and humid outside, and the clouds were building up again off to our west. The radar showed many possible tornados, as well as areas of possibly very large hail. As it all moved south into the Madison Lake, Janesville, and Waseca areas, we saw that the wind outside was whipping the trees all around. I stepped out on the deck, and I could see some of the clouds off to the east were moving quickly south, while others were moving just as quickly to the north. I knew this meant there was rotation up there. Not good. Soon it would be necessary to leave our home for the storm shelter
Then we saw on the radar that the storms were re-forming again back to the west – but they were now to our south! I knew we maybe weren’t out of the woods yet, but it was a good sign. I knew it was very doubtful that these storms would be moving back to the north. This is when I started to relax. I finally gave in and went to take my shower, three hours after leaving work. The storms continued to drift to the south, and they were weakening as well. Some would say we had dodged a bullet. The truth is, I think the Lord protected us.
Our son Dan was on call with his internet job that evening, and right after work he got the call to head up to the Cities to fix a problem in downtown Minneapolis, right across the street from the Metrodome. He was driving just ahead of the eastward-moving storms, and it wasn’t long before he drove out of the weather. His wife and two kids were at the in-laws’ house up on the north end of St. Peter when the tornado went through south of town. So they were fine. Dan made it to his jobsite in Minneapolis by 7:00, and left at 7:30, headed for home. He arrived in St. Peter by 9:00, relieved to find no real damage to the town and his home.
Daughter Becky called us around 10:00 to let us know she made it home fine in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities. She said there hadn’t been any severe weather there, except they did have heavy rain, and there were puddles all over the place. When we called her earlier in the evening we didn’t know that the cities had been spared, but we realized it by the time she called us.
We got good news this morning, when we learned that our dear friends Ken and Della, who live in Nicollet, the first town that was hit by the tornado, were not only fine, but their home had escaped without any apparent damage. The house next door had damage to the brand new siding and the garage was damaged, and the house across the street lost its roof. That’s too close for comfort! Just this last weekend, Ken and Della watched our little dog, Kiwi, for us when we trekked down to Des Moines, IA. We got to see their beautiful home they had built in Nicollet a few years ago. What a shame it would have been if it had been destroyed. What a greater shame it would have been if they had been hurt, or died.
And for me, probably the best ending to the evening that I could have asked for came shortly after ten o’clock when the phone rang, and it was my mom, calling from up north in Grand Rapids. They had been watching Channel 4 News and saw their coverage of the storms, and she said she just couldn’t bear to go to bed without knowing that we were all safe.
We were, thank God!