Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Tornado count rises in southern Minnesota October 1, 2018

Ten days after an EF2 tornado hit the Faribault Airport, a man surveys the damage just before sunset.


MAKE THAT SIXTEEN. The National Weather Service updated from 10 to 16 the number of tornadoes which touched down in southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin on September 20.


A half block from my home trees fell onto two vehicles. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


The unprecedented massive storm system hit my area hardest with five confirmed tornadoes in Rice County, the strongest an EF2 with wind speeds of 120 – 130 mph, according to the NWS report. That tornado damaged homes in Morristown and along Roberds Lake and destroyed the Faribault airport. Within the city of Faribault, apparent straight line winds felled hundreds of trees, including in my neighborhood, and also damaged houses and other structures. The tornadoes continued north and east of Faribault into Wisconsin causing additional damage.


The tornado at the Faribault Municipal Airport, Liz Wall Strohfus Field flipped airplanes and destroyed buildings.


The Weather Service states in its report that assessments continue and the final tornado count could change.


The single photo I shot along Roberds Lake Boulevard on Sunday evening, 10 days after the tornado. Damage to homes and loss of trees along this section of Roberds Lake is extensive.


Sunday evening, 10 days after the storm, Randy and I drove through the countryside, past the airport and along a short section of Roberds Lake Boulevard. Up until then, we chose to stay away as advised by local authorities. Gawkers early on hampered the work of emergency personnel, utility workers and clean-up crews. After seeing too many gawkers in our neighborhood (including the evening of the storm), I decided to wait until things calmed to view the destruction. No need to get in the way.


Debris landed on and along Minnesota State Highway 21 by the Faribault Airport. This is right off Interstate 35. I expect the scene was much worse right after the tornado. I shot this 10 days after the storm and shortly before sunset.


Ten days out, plenty of people are still working hard to remove trees, clear properties and repair storm-damaged buildings. Many roofs remain partially covered with tarps. I didn’t take many photos, except of the airport damage, and that as we drove past the airport. Mostly metal debris still lines road ditches and the median along Minnesota State Highway 21. I can only imagine how bad this area looked right after the tornado because it still looks bad.


Look closely and you will see aircraft under the debris.


Yet, in all of this we find reason to remain thankful. Not a single person was killed, which is remarkable given the 16 tornadoes and straight line winds. The NWS credits a Wireless Emergency Alert notification of the approaching tornadoes for saving lives. I agree. I got that alert on my cell phone. But I’d also seen an alert on TV and heard an alert on the local radio station to seek immediate shelter. I take these warnings seriously. There was a reason alerts sounded and emergency sirens blared, here in Faribault off and on for 40 minutes. They save lives. To ignore those warnings is a risk I will never take. Ever.

FYI: Click here to read the updated National Weather Service report released on Friday.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Tornado count rises in southern Minnesota”

  1. Wow- thanks for the update. I don’t get much through any other sources other than the bloggers. Getting the ground zero truth is helpful. I lived through 2 EF 4 s in Oklahoma when I lived there. The level of devastation was more than my mind could comprehend. Much like a war zone it is very shocking. Thanks again for sharing and yes, everyone is very lucky no one was killed.

  2. parkerozgood Says:

    We were on 14 just between Mankato and Waterville when this came through. I don’t think I have ever driven in stronger more intense wind and rain! We had to pull over it was so crazy!

    • To be caught in those winds had to be scary. You were smart to pull over.

      Several years ago we were caught in a severe thunderstorm in the middle of nowhere just north of Walnut Grove. The car was rocking in the strong winds, the roadside grass blown flat. Scary stuff.

      I’m thankful we have glass block basement windows and couldn’t see the storm raging outside on September 20. I think I would have been more scared than I already was.

  3. wow… those wind speeds are insane!

  4. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    God rules, no question. For all the storms that go south vs. north in this area, this experience will be high on the list of unforgettable for you. I was a young mother bathing first born in the 60s. No warning sirens in the White Bear area yet. The yell “basement, NOW!” put us away from the train sounding wind overhead. Straight line winds. Corner of the house down. I also knew people in OK during the EF4 tornadoes. I’ve lived to a ripe ol’ age without life threatening, my prayer is to go Home somewhere quiet. (and I pray the Trinity folk can still find the energy to volunteer at church)

  5. Almost Iowa Says:

    As much as we like to complain about cell phones, and they can be a pain, nothing has done more for public safety, from 911 calls from anywhere, to the alerts that you mentioned.

  6. Littlesundog Says:

    You’ve done a great job with your photographs, documenting the damage and devastation… but photos can’t begin to show it all. It takes years sometimes to cleanup and rebuild. I feel for anyone who has to deal with catastrophic weather and weather-related events. Tough Midwesterners have the grit to move on, but that doesn’t mean it’s so easy. The important thing is, lives were not lost.

    • You are right. Photos only tell a small portion of the story. It is the ongoing effort to rebuild or clean-up, the stress, the emotional challenges that remain. And, yes, most importantly, no lives were lost in this massive storm system.

  7. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    That’s remarkable that no lives were lost with that much damage and so late in the season

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