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The Southern Minnesota Tornadoes of
March 29th, 1998

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How Historically Unusual Was This?

From an historical and climatological perspective, two aspects of the March 29, 1998, tornado outbreak render it quite unique:

  • the sheer number of strong and/or violent tornadoes that occurred in an area that typically sees its tornado peak two to three months later, and
  • the extraordinary continuous path length of the Comfrey tornado.

Prior to 1998, only five tornadoes with a Fujita rating of F2 or greater had been recorded in the month of March in the entire state of Minnesota – none of which occurred on the same day. The following table summarizes the characteristics of the strong and/or violent Minnesota March tornadoes that occurred prior to the March 29, 1998, outbreak, as outlined in Significant Tornadoes: 1680-1991 by Thomas P. Grazulis.

Date

Time

Counties Affected

Fujita Rating

Path Width

Path Length

Narrative Description from Grazulis

3/27/1905

6:30p

Lac Qui Parle, Big Stone

F3

Unknown

10 miles

“Moved NNE through Louisburg, tearing apart the entire village, except for two homes and two businesses. A pond was said to have been ‘sucked dry,’ and barns were destroyed on a farm north of town. All 10 stores in the downtown area were destroyed, along with three homes.”

3/26/1921

7:30p

Nobles, Murray

F3

400 yards

25 miles

“Moved NE from the edge of Rushmore, passing just SE of Reading, 9 miles N of Worthington, then curving N towards Fulda. Two women were killed in the destruction of separate homes at Rushmore and near Reading. Over 20 farms lost buildings.”

3/21/1953

4:43p

Stearns, Benton

F2

100 yards

11 miles

“Moved NE, passing just NW of St. Cloud. A church was thrown into a lumberyard, and a warehouse was destroyed. A boy was killed in a laundromat that was destroyed.”

3/18/1968

5:30p

Watonwan

F2

400 yards

4 miles

“Moved NE from 6 miles N of Truman. Buildings on three farms were destroyed. A board from the first farm was embedded in the siding of the house on a second farm, a quarter mile away.”

3/25/1981

1:15p

Morrison

F2

50 yards

3 miles

“Moved NE from 4 miles E of Royalton. This tornado was on the ground for 70% of the time. Two barns and several sheds were destroyed, and five cattle were killed.”

In addition to these five tornadoes, rated F2 or higher, one additional March tornado occurred in Faribault County on the 20 th day of March in 1991, but it was rated an F1.

In stark contrast to the previous March tornado climatology, the fourteen tornadoes seen on March 29, 1998, more than doubled the total number of March tornadoes seen in the state of Minnesota prior to 1998. The six F2 or stronger tornadoes also easily eclipsed the total number of strong and/or violent March tornadoes in the state prior to the 1998 outbreak.

An early season tornado outbreak of this magnitude is not completely unprecedented in this region, however, as a series of strong to violent tornadoes also occurred across central Minnesota and parts of northwest Wisconsin on April 5, 1929, only 7 Julian days after the 29th of March. In the 1929 outbreak, three F4 tornadoes and one F3 from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area northeastward to near Ashland, Wisconsin. Compare the timing of the April 5, 1929, and the March 29, 1998, outbreaks to the climatological tornado peak in Minnesota, which actually occurs in mid-June.

The 67-mile long track of the Comfrey tornado officially ranks fifth in the list of Top 5 long track tornadoes in Minnesota history; however, if only continuous tracks are considered, it may very well rank as the longest ever to occur in the state, although that cannot be officially determined due to documentation limitations. The following table summarizes information about the Top 5 long track tornadoes in Minnesota history.

Rank

Date

Path Length

Percentage of Time on the Ground

Counties Affected

1

8/26/1977

110 miles

70%

Otter Tail, Wadena, Cass, Crow Wing

2

6/23/1952

105 miles

20%

Cottonwood, Brown, Nicollet, Sibley, Carver, Hennepin

3

6/11/1966

73 miles

80%

Cass, Crow Wing, Aitkin, St. Louis

4

6/24/1952

71 miles

50%

Le Sueur, Scott, Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka

5

3/29/1998

67 miles

100%

Murray, Cottonwood, Brown, Watonwan, Blue Earth, Nicollet

 

 


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