August 21, 1883 Southeast Minnesota Tornadoes

This is the view from Cole's Mill showing the residential section of Rochester. (Photo taken by Elmer & Tenney)
This view from Cole's Mill shows the residential section
of Rochester, MN which was struck by a tornado around 7 PM
on August 21, 1883. (Photo taken by Elmer & Tenney)

During the late afternoon and evening of August 21, 1883, three significant tornadoes (two F3s and one F5) occurred in southeast Minnesota.  These tornadoes affected parts of Dodge, Olmsted, and Winona counties, and they accounted for 40 fatalities and over 200 injuries.

The first tornado touched down around 330 PM about 10 miles south of Rochester near Pleasant Grove (Olmsted County).  This tornado moved northeast for approximately 3 miles and it caused damage on four farms.  One of these farms was completely destroyed.  Other than this, few other details are known about this tornado.  It killed 2 people and injured another ten people.  This tornado was estimated by Thomas P. Grazulis to be a F3 tornado.  Damage was estimated to be $2,000 (in 2007 dollars this would be $42,000).

The second tornado touched down 4 miles northwest of Hayfield (Dodge County) around 6:30 PM.  At least 10 to 40 farms hit Dodge County were leveled.  The massive tornado then moved northeast through northern Rochester.  The enormous roar was said to have warned most Rochester residents.  Over 135 homes were destroyed and another 200 were damaged.  The tornado also derailed a train near Zumbrota Junction.  The mile wide tornado then began to move east again as it moved through rural eastern Olmsted County.  It leveled several farmsteads before dissipating 10 miles east of Rochester.  The tornado killed 37 people and injured 200 others.  Many of the injuries were very serious and other deaths probably occurred, but they are not listed in this total.  This tornado was on the ground for 25 miles and it was estimated by Thomas P. Grazulis to be a F5 tornado.  The total damage was estimated to be $700,000 (in 2007 dollars this would be $14.9 million)

The final tornado touched down around 8:30 PM two miles north of St. Charles (Winona County).  This tornado then moved east northeast for 12 miles before dissipating 4 miles north of Lewiston.  One man was killed in the destruction of a farm house 4 miles northeast of St. Charles.  In addition to this death, the tornado injured 19 others.  This tornado was estimated by Thomas P. Grazulis to be a F3 tornado.  It was estimated that this tornado produced $1,000 in damage (in 2007 dollars this would be $21,000).

Impact of this Event:

Prior to these tornadoes, there were only three hospitals in the state of Minnesota outside of the Twin Cities.  None of these hospitals were located near Rochester.  After the F5 tornado struck Rochester, a dance hall (Rommel Hall) was transformed into a temporary emergency room.  Doctors William Mayo and his two sons (William and Charles) took charge of caring for patients.  Mother May Alfred Moes of the Sisters of St. Francis helped care for patients as well.  After this disaster the Mayo family and the Sisters of St. Francis realized the need of a hospital in Rochester.  They banded together to form St. Mary's Hospital, which ultimately led to the creation of the Mayo Clinic.

The links below provide more on these tornadoes. 

More Details on these tornadoes Weather Conditions which Led to this Outbreak
Newspapers Accounts Aftermath Photos of the Rochester Tornado

Any questions or comments on this web site, should be sent to Jeff Boyne.


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