The October 26, 1996 Minnesota Tornado Outbreak

Tornado tracks from October 26, 1996


One of the most unusual tornado outbreaks in Minnesota history occurred on October 26, 1996. Fourteen tornadoes touched down in central and west central Minnesota.  There were 11 injuries, but fortunately no fatalities. Even more remarkable was the fact that 3 tornadoes also struck in Nebraska and 9 others in South Dakota, making for a one-day total of 26 tornadoes in the north central United States.

The 14 tornadoes in one day easily eclipsed the record for Minnesota tornadoes in the month of October.

Complete tornado records only go back to 1950. Between 1950 and 1995, there had been only 10 October tornadoes recorded in Minnesota. Then, in one day, we had 14. Just 3 days later, two more tornadoes touched down in Minnesota on the 29th (near Round Lake and Cologne), making October the most prolific month for tornadoes that year.

In the years since, Minnesota has had only 2 other October tornadoes...  October 6, 1997 near Stewart and October 29, 2004 near Buckman. Through this year, Minnesota has seen a total of 28 October tornadoes, with 14 of them occurring on October 26, 1996.

Here is a listing of the tornadoes that touched down in Minnesota on October 26, 1996, along with the approximate time of touchdown and the Fujita scale rating.  5 were rated as F2..

Time F-Scale Location
3:01-3:02 PM CDT  F0  Barry (Big Stone County). On ground for 1 mile 
3:23-3:25 PM CDT F1  Wheaton (Traverse County). On ground 1 mile 
3:59-4:10 PM CDT  F1  5 miles SW of Benson to 1 mile W of Benson (Swift County)
4:15-4:20 PM CDT  F1  5 miles SE of Cyrus to 3 miles SE of Cyrus (Pope County) 
4:15-4:25 PM CDT  F1  6 miles SW of Belgrade to Brooten (Kandiyohi & Stearns County) 
4:15-4:25 PM CDT  F2  7 miles SW of Alexandria to Garfield (Douglas County) 
4:25-4:35 PM CDT  F1  3 miles E of Garfield to 6 miles NW of Miltona (Douglas County) 
5:10-5:15 PM CDT  F2  3 miles E of Henning to 2 miles W of New York Mills (Otter Tail County) 
5:14-5:16 PM CDT  F1  3 miles W of Clearwater to 2 miles NW of Clearwater (Stearns County) 
5:17-5:22 PM CDT  F2  5 miles SSW of Albany to 2 miles W of Albany (Stearns County) 
5:30-5:35 PM CDT  F2  4 miles S of Sebeka to Sebeka (Wadena County) 
6:12-6:25 PM CDT  F1  2 miles NW of Cambridge to 2 miles E of Braham (Isanti County) 
6:14 PM CDT  F0  4 miles N or Dorset (Hubbard County). On ground for 1/2 mile. 
7:00 PM CDT  F2  21 miles NE of Brainerd (Crow Wing County). On ground for 3/4 mile. 

 


Damage Survey

With the shortness of daylight, the damage survey took 3 days to complete. Here are some photos from that survey.

A grain bin was destroyed west of Benson, MN - click for a larger image Swift County: The third tornado touchdown in Minnesota that day barely missed the city of Benson, but hit several farms just west of the city, causing F1 damage. It sideswiped a pipeline facility just west of Benson. This photo shows one of the grain bins that was destroyed.

 

Douglas County: Some of the most severe damage this day was at Lobster Lake, where homes and cabins were destroyed. These 3 photos were taken at the NE corner of the lake, just S of Interstate 94, 5 miles W of Alexandria. The F2 tornado that struck this area moved north, crossed Interstate 94, and dissipated just as it entered the city of Garfield. Tornado damage near Lobster Lake, MN - click for a larger image
Tornado damage near Lobster Lake, MN - click for a larger image Tornado damage near Lobster Lake, MN - click for a larger image

 

Tornado damage near Lake Miltona - click for a larger image Douglas County: F1 damage took place along the west side of Lake Ida, 3 miles E of Garfield (8 miles NNW of downtown Alexandria). The tornado hit some cabins and lake homes, moved over the NW corner of Lake Ida, then across Lake Miltona.  The tornado dissipated just after hitting some cabins, trailers and lake homes on the NW corner of Lake Miltona.

 

Stearns County: F2 tornado damage occurred a few miles S of Albany in central Stearns County, about 20 miles W of St Cloud. Some older houses in rural areas are not attached to the foundation, and are more prone to being destroyed. Tornado damage near Albany, MN - click for a larger image
Tornado damage near Albany, MN - click for a larger image Tornado damage near Albany, MN - click for a larger image

 

Tornado damage in Isanti County, MN  - click for a larger image Isanti County: Shortly after sunset, the 13th tornado of this historic day touched down just NW of Cambridge. It was on the ground for 12 miles, mostly in rural areas. It did, however, tear through the community of Stanchfield before dissipating just E of Braham. Fortunately, it only produced F1 damage.

 


Radar Images

Reflectivity image at 4:13 PM CDT - click for a larger image 4:13 PM CDT: Three tornadoes will touch down in the next couple of minutes..  an F1 southeast of Cyrus (Pope County), and F1 southwest of Belgrade (Kandiyohi into Stearns County) and an F2 southwest of Alexandria (Douglas County). None of the other storms were producing a tornado at this time.
Velocity image at 4:13 PM CDT - click for a larger image 4:13 PM CDT: A storm relative velocity image showing the green vs. red rotational couplet associated with each of the 3 tornadic storms.
Reflectivity Image at 4:34 PM CDT - click for a larger image   4:34 PM CDT: an F1 tornado is in progress northwest of Alexandria (Douglas County). None of the other storms was producing a tornado at this time.
Reflectivity image at 5:10 PM CDT - click for a larger image  5:10 PM CDT: An F2 tornado is about to touch down southwest of Albany (Stearns County) 
Reflectivity image at 6:35 PM CDT - click for a larger image  6:35 PM CDT: A 12-mile long F1 tornado moved through Isanti County, touching down just northwest of Cambridge and dissipating just east of Braham. The time of this radar picture differs from the tornado time in official Storm Data records, which have been frozen. The storm near Brainerd would go on to produce a tornado in another 25 minutes. 
Velocity image at 6:35 PM CDT - click for a larger image  6:35 PM CDT: A storm relative velocity image showing the green vs. red couplet associated with the tornadic storm northwest of Cambridge. 

Minnesota Tornado Outbreaks

Was this the largest tornado outbreak in Minnesota history?  No...  but the 14 tornadoes in one day means that the October 26, 1996 outbreak is tied for 7th place. Here is a list of the 10 largest tornado outbreaks in Minnesota history:

1. June 17, 2010: 48 tornadoes
2. June 16, 1992: 27 tornadoes
3. July 1, 1997: 18 tornadoes
4. June 11, 2001: 16 tornadoes
4. June 13, 2001: 16 tornadoes
6. June 28, 1979: 15 tornadoes
6. June 24, 2003: 15 tornadoes
8. July 21, 1995: 14 tornadoes
8. October 26, 1996: 14 tornadoes
8. March 29, 1998: 14 tornadoes
8. July 25, 2000: 14 tornadoes

While tornadoes this late in the season are very uncommon in Minnesota, there have been touchdowns later in the season.  Three November tornadoes have been documented:

November 1, 2000 near Prinsburg
November 2, 1938 north of Nashwauk to 14 miles northwest of Virginia
November 16, 1931 near Maple Plain


USA.gov is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.