Archived Story

Rare November tornadoes rake southern metro

Published 9:31am Monday, November 12, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS — Two weak tornadoes touched down in the south metro late Saturday — an extremely rare phenomenon that Minnesota has not experienced this late in the season since the National Weather Service began keeping tornado statistics in the 1950s, meteorologists said Sunday.

After a day of record-breaking highs that topped out in the lower 70s in some parts of the Twin Cities, a strong cold front rode in from the Dakotas, spawning the tornadoes in Dakota County around 11 p.m. Saturday. They fanned into straight-line winds that ripped out trees, knocked out power and caused light structural damage in Dakota, Ramsey and southern Washington counties.

No injuries were reported, but trees and power lines were blown down. Power was lost to about 12,000 homes and businesses, primarily in Mendota Heights, West St. Paul and St. Paul. Electricity was restored to nearly all by Sunday night, an Xcel Energy spokeswoman said.

The twisters were rated as EF-0, on a scale that rates the most devastating tornadoes as EF-5.

“In terms of tornadoes, these were of the weakest that we could rank,” said Chris Franks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen. “But even a weak tornado can still do damage. Any tornado … in a metro area can be dangerous with that many people.”

The November twisters are not only rare in Minnesota, but are “extremely rare for places in the Northern Plains, the Upper Mississippi River Valley,” which would include Wisconsin, Iowa and North and South Dakota, Franks said.

On Sunday, a three-member Weather Service team tracked the storms’ path in Ramsey, Washington and Dakota Counties to determine whether it was indeed one or more weak tornadoes or straight-line winds. It surveyed damage in the hardest-hit areas.

The first tornado showed up on radar at 10:58 p.m., touching down near McAndrews Road and County Road 5 in Burnsville. It moved northeast. Wind speeds were estimated at 80 miles per hour. It then widened into straight-line winds.

Seven minutes later, a line of thunderstorms moving fast to the northeast produced a second tornado following the Mississippi River, and it dropped down near the intersection of Interstate 494 and Hwy. 13. That one had wind speeds of 70 to 75 mph.

The winds had picked up intensity as they swept from the west into the east metro, with pockets of homes and businesses hardest hit, and power failures in West St. Paul and Mendota Heights, said Patti Nystuen, an Xcel Energy spokeswoman.

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