The Rochester, MN Tornado of 1883


On August 21, 1883, a large tornado struck Rochester, MN destroying most of the homes and commercial structures on the north side of town. A total of 24 people were killed in Rochester, but the tornado itself killed a total of 37 residents in southeast Minnesota. At least 200 people were injured.

The tornado moved northeast from 4 miles northwest of Hayfield, MN (Fig. 1), leveling at least 10 of the 40 farms it hit in Dodge County. In Rochester, 135 homes were destroyed, while another 200 were damaged. Many of the residents who survived the tornado said the enormous roar of the approaching storm warned them. The tornado went on to derail a train causing more injures and at least one death. The tornado track was 25 miles long, reaching a width of 1500 yards. It would have been ranked an F5 on the Fujita damage scale and was part of a family of tornadoes that day. Total damage was estimated at $700,000.

At the time of the tornado, the city of Rochester did not have a medical facility that could treat all the injured. A local doctor, William W. Mayo and his two sons worked together with the sisters of St. Francis church to care for the wounded. Collections were gathered and in 1889 Saint Mary’s hospital was built, which would later be renamed Mayo Clinic.

In addition to this F5 tornado, two other strong tornadoes (both F3) struck portions of southeast Minnesota on this day. This first occurred 3 hours prior to the major tornado, moving northeast from Pleasant Grove to 10 miles south of Rochester. Most of the damage with this tornado occurred on 4 farms, with one being completely destroyed. This tornado was on the ground for 10 miles, killing 2 and injuring 10. The other F3 tornado moved northeast from 2 miles north of St. Charles to 2 miles north of Lewiston. It was on the ground for 12 miles and occurred 3 hours after the F5 Rochester tornado. There was 1 death and 19 injuries associated with this tornado.

Estimate tornado track for the Rochester tornado of August 21, 1883
Fig 1. Estimated F5 tornado track that devastated Rochester, MN on August 21, 1883.

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