Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Terrifying tornado tales from Minnesota June 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:22 AM
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ONE WEEK AGO TODAY, numerous tornadoes ravaged Minnesota, killing three, destroying hundreds of homes and injuring many.

This morning, thankfully, weather conditions are calm with low humidity and no indications that more storms could develop.

Even so, we Minnesotans remain unsettled, still reeling from the destruction wreaked upon this land, and upon our psyches, only seven days ago.

Memories of such devastation linger for years, if not decades. Just last night, while working on a trivia contest for an upcoming reunion, I am paging through a family history book when I come upon a story written by my Uncle Merlin, the family historian.

He writes of an F5 tornado (the most powerful) which decimated the small southwestern Minnesota farming community of Tracy on June 13, 1968, killing nine. At the time, Merlin, his wife and their two young children lived about 20 miles away just outside of Lamberton three towns directly east of Tracy along U.S. Highway 14.

My uncle had just returned home from work when the weather turned ominous. “We were watching for tornadoes as the conditions were right,” he writes. “Then to the southwest we saw it—a huge tornado. As we watched, we saw large amounts of debris lifted into the sky—we thought it hit Revere and about that time Iylene (his wife) took one-year-old Janelle and I took Ronda down into the basement. About an hour later we found out that this tornado hit Tracy causing a large amount of destruction and costing several lives.”

Reading my uncle’s story, I feel his anxiety as he rushes his young family to safety, fearing the twister is within miles of his home.

Then I flip the page of the history booklet and read of Merlin’s first tornado encounter, on today’s date—June 24—in1953 or 1954. Although only about 10 years old when a twister struck his childhood farm south of Vesta, he clearly remembers the details and that day, his sister Elvira’s wedding anniversary.

“The sky turned all kinds of colors and we kids were really scared,” my uncle remembers. “My dad and brothers were out doing the chores and milking the cows. Harold (his brother) got caught in the hog barn as it hit and my dad and one of my brothers had to hold the double doors of the barn closed on one end and two of my other brothers did the same on the other end.”

His words draw me in, placing me there in the barn with my grandfather and uncles as they hunker down, struggling against the fierce winds to hold the barn doors in place.

“There was one loud crash and then stillness,” Merlin continues. “My sister Jeanette looked out the north window of the house and shouted, ‘Mom, the whole grove is gone.’ That was really close.”

The tornado spared the house and farm buildings, but destroyed the stand of trees sheltering the farm site on the flat, open prairie of southwestern Minnesota.

Almost three decades later a twister struck nearby, on the farm where I grew up, taking down a silo, tossing wagons about in the field, ripping a railing from the house… Even though I was grown then and no longer living at home, the psychological impact of that storm still remains.

I fear tornadoes, a fear imprinted upon me after viewing the devastation wreaked upon Tracy in 1968 and then reinforced all those years later on my home farm. I sometimes dream about tornadoes.

Yet, I know my dreams, my feelings, are nothing compared to those Minnesotans who experienced the destructive tornadoes of a week ago. For them, nightmares are reality.


IF YOU HAVE A TORNADO story you would like to share, please submit a comment to this post.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


7 Responses to “Terrifying tornado tales from Minnesota”

  1. Bungalow'56 Says:

    Are tornadoes common? Do they happen several times in a season? We had a very small tornado touch down a half block away from my parents’ home. It turned over a car and then lifted back up. This is very unusual though.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I would say that tornadoes are not uncommon in Minnesota. Generally speaking, we experience some tornadoes every summer, “we” meaning the entire state. The break-out of tornadoes across so much of Minnesota last Thursday was unusual. Typically, storms are more confined to a specific region. And, typically, the twisters are not powerful F4 beasts like those that raged through southeastern and northwestern Minnesota on June 17, 2010.

      In summary, I’ve experienced enough tornado warnings and seen enough devastation in Minnesota that I respect these fierce, destructive storms.

  2. virgil Says:

    In the mid 1960’s my cousin’s farm near Glencoe was wiped out. My cousin, his Mom and Dad saw the tornado coming toward their farm from the southwest. They went down their basement and 20 minutes later when they came out they were shocked. All their buildings were gone, barn, machine shed, silo, corncrib, chicken barn, etc. Only the house was spared but had a 2X 4 protruding from one wall. The parents were older at the time so that resulted in their retirement from farming.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It’s interesting how, when you tell tornado stories, so many Minnesotans have experienced twisters or know of someone who has lived through such a devastating storm. Thank you for sharing this story, Virgil.

  3. A tornado touched down near Revere around 7 p.m. Friday, June 25, 2010, according to news reports I’ve read and heard. See reference in this story to Revere.

    Yesterday’s twister caused some damage in this area of Redwood County, my home county. One of my brothers lives in this region and also manages an ethanol plant between Revere and Lamberton. I haven’t talked to him yet, but am curious whether he saw Friday’s tornado.

    Check out stormtrack.org to see the Revere twister.

  4. Kristin Says:

    I don’t really remember any tornadoes in southeastern Ohio, but we sure had enough drills to drive the fear of wind into me. The only tornado I remember hit on my mom’s birthday – we were in Faribault. There was angel food cake with cherry icing and a sky that turned green. The neighbors’ lawn furniture ended up several blocks away and I was really too young for any of it.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Storms ripped through Minnesota again Saturday evening. In Faribault the sirens sounded around 10 p.m., so we headed to the basement for about 20 minutes. Winds were strong for a short time and rain fell hard and fast. But I have not seen any storm damage–yet.

      In southwestern Minnesota, my brother reports sustained winds of around 50 mph for nearly an hour with shingles blown off his house. Many trees in the Lamberton area, where he lives, were downed. A grain bin was toppled in nearby Wabasso.

      “I never want to be in a hurricane. I have never in my life seen the wind blow that strong for that long of a period,” my brother says.

      If the storms continue as they have during the past week in Minnesota, this could be one long, scary summer.

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