Weatherz School: Northland’s tornado history

Last time in Weatherz School, we established that tornadoes can happen near Lake Superior, but we didn’t address whether or not it’s happened before. So, let’s dive into the Northland’s tornado history.

In 1958, there was a tornado within Duluth City limits. According to the National Weather Service, a weak tornado began in the Duluth Heights neighborhood and tracked northeast for nearly 7 miles, crossing between UMD and St. Scholastica.

On August 9th, 2012, a waterspout formed 2 miles offshore of Minnesota Point. It crossed to Barker’s Island where it briefly came onshore as an EF-0 tornado.

Fortunately, both of these Twin Ports tornadoes were weak. A darker page of Northland history was the Siren Tornado of 2001. A tornado struck east of Grantsburg and moved east for close to 30 miles, delivering F-3 damage to Siren. There were two direct fatalities, one indirect, and 16 people were injured.

The most significant tornado event in our region was the Northwoods Tornado Outbreak of 1969. A total of 12 tornadoes were confirmed, including the Outing tornado, the deadliest F4 tornado ever recorded in northern Minnesota. 15 people died that day, and 106 were injured, and total damages were estimated at $8 million, which would be about $64 million today.

The devastating tornadoes from that day were rated by the Fujita scale, which rates tornado damage based on the most intense winds. It was refined to become the Enhanced Fujita scale in 2007. An EF-0 is the weakest, with winds less than 85 mph. An EF-1 is up to 110 mph. EF-2 tornadoes have winds as high as 135 mph. EF-3 includes winds up to 165 mph. An EF-4 is considered devastating with winds up to 200 mph. The most severe tornado category is EF-5, which has winds greater than 200 mph.

The storms of our past must be remembered. In this way, we honor the lives changed by these historical events, and learn from them in the way we approach the storms still to come.