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Minnesota sits on the northern edge of some of the planet’s most intense and volatile weather. Tornadoes are the realization of all of nature’s fury coming together in one spot.

Minnesota’s earliest recorded tornado was April 19, 1820 at Fort Snelling. It occurred at 11 p.m., which you can imagine was probably pretty frightening in the dark wilderness. There were no deaths or injuries. 

Did you know that the Mayo Clinic is what it is today in Rochester because of a deadly tornado outbreak more than 130 years ago?

Rochester tornadoes and the Mayo Clinic

One of the most significant tornado outbreaks in Minnesota history was on Aug. 21, 1883. Multiple tornadoes killed 37 people and injured 200 others. Of course this was before the time of rating tornadoes but looking back, it’s been estimated that there were two EF-3s and one EF-5 tornado.

The first tornado touched down around 3:30 p.m., about 10 miles south of Rochester. It was estimated to be an EF-3.

A second tornado touched down around 6:30 p.m. It was estimated to be an EF-5. It leveled an estimated 10 to 40 farms and it was said that the enormous "roaring" sound the tornado made was the warning most people heard.

The final tornado occurred around 8:30 p.m., two miles north of St. Charles in Winona County. 

The impact of this event changed history. Prior to this time there were only three hospitals outside of the Twin Cities. Dr. William Mayo and his two sons, William and Charles, treated the hundreds injured along with Mother Mary Alfred Moes. The experience made the Mayo family and the sisters from St. Francis understand the need for a local hospital and developed St. Marys hospital which became the Mayo Clinic.

You can view photos of the tornado damage in 1883 right here

The deadliest tornado outbreak in Minnesota history impacted Sauk Rapids and changed the dynamic with St. Cloud

The deadliest tornado outbreak in Minnesota history struck April 14, 1886, wiping out Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. The tornadoes killed 72 people. Eleven of the victims were members of a wedding party, including the groom. A total of 213 people were injured.

Sauk Rapids was the larger city and economic hub of the St. Cloud/Sauk Rapids area prior to that devastating tornado. The massive destruction of Sauk Rapids led to St. Cloud taking over as the larger, more prosperous city, which it is to this day.

It was later estimated that one of the tornadoes was an EF-4. Four tornadoes struck the central Minnesota region that day and was part of an outbreak that also impacted Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Texas.

At 4:20 p.m. on April 14, 1886 the EF-4 tornado, at least a half-mile wide, cut through the center of Sauk Rapids. It was said the tornado temporarily sucked the Mississippi river dry!

Some tornado climatology

Despite a rather active start to the severe weather season this spring and that record-setting December tornado outbreak, this summer has been rather lackluster. Being in a drought two summers in a row doesn’t hide the fact that Minnesota sits on the northern edge of active severe weather in the United States.

On average, Minnesota receives about 29 tornadoes annually when using the 1950-2020 average. The numbers vary greatly, depending on a variety of conditions. The map below shows a 2005-2014 average (a much narrower window) but shows generally what areas are more active than others. 


While of course Texas gets a lot more tornadoes, it’s also much bigger. When you break it down per square mile, Texas only gets about 1.5 times more tornadoes annually than Minnesota. 

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