Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Tornado terror in Minnesota on June 17, 2010 June 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:55 AM
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Ominous clouds roil above Faribault shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday. I shot this through my dining room window.

“WERE THOSE THE SIRENS?” I ask, inching down the car window, uncertain whether I’ve heard the sirens that warn of an approaching storm.

“I think it was a truck,” my husband says as he continues driving west along Minnesota Highway 60 in Faribault toward the Eagles Club.

Then I hear the sound again, and this time we recognize the shrill whistle warning us to take cover.

“I want to go home. Now,” I command.

I can tell simply by my husband’s lack of response that he thinks I’m crazy. The skies don’t appear all that threatening.

“They’re not going to take our blood anyway,” I state, arguing my case. “I’m sure they have protocol in situations like this.”

He won’t concur that I am right, seeming to hesitate at the intersection that will take us to the Eagles and the Red Cross Bloodmobile. But on this June evening, the Red Cross will get none of our blood. We are heading back home, across town, to safety.

My husband switches on the car radio. The announcer is advising people to take shelter as near as Waterville about 15 miles away. The area lies in the path of a tornado.

Back home I nearly leap from the car and rush inside the house where we left our 16-year-old son finishing his homework for a night-time astronomy class. Before leaving, I instructed him to seek shelter if he heard the sirens. Clearly, he has listened to me this time. The door to the basement is flung open, the lights blazing.

I yell for my boy, but get no response. Soon he pounds down the stairs from the second story. “I checked on the internet and it’s only a thunderstorm warning,” he says.

“Uh, no,” I say, explaining that we are under a tornado warning.

Given that, none of us are fleeing to the basement even though I fear tornadoes. Witnessing the destruction of the June 13, 1968, Tracy tornado (see my June 13 blog post) that claimed nine lives and, decades later, seeing the damage a twister caused to the southwestern Minnesota farm where I grew up instilled in me a life-long healthy respect for these powerful storms.

And yesterday, in Minnesota, that respect likely grew among residents. Two people in the Wadena area and one near Albert Lea were killed when tornadoes struck. The state may have broken its record for the biggest tornado outbreak in a single day. That record stood at 27 on June 16, 1992, when an F5 tornado devastated Chandler and killed one person.

On Thursday, multiple twisters ravage many regions of Minnesota. At one time, a weatherman reports that a tornado seems to be moving straight north along Interstate 35 toward Owatonna, just to the south of Faribault.

I worry about my sister and her husband who are traveling on I-35 to Des Moines sometime after she gets off work Thursday afternoon. That route would take them directly through the storm-struck area. The interstate has been closed due to the storm, one reporter says.

Here in Faribault, round 9 p.m. on Thursday, the skies turn an eerie green to the west. To the east, ominous steel-gray clouds weigh heavy upon the earth. My anxiety level rises as I recall something about green skies and tornadoes, true or not. But no new warning sirens blare.

When I climb into bed at 11:15 p.m., many Minnesota counties, including my home county of Rice, remain under a tornado watch until 1 a.m.

This morning I awake to cloudy skies, edged out now by bright sunshine. I expect for many in our state, daylight brings a new appreciation for the power of tornadoes and a profound thankfulness for surviving their rage.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling