Anniversary of October 10, 1949 Windstorm

Front Page of the October 11, 1949 Pioneer Press
Front Page of the October 11, 1949 Pioneer Press
Courtesy: St. Paul Pioneer Press

 

On October 10, 1949, an unusually powerful low pressure system brought hurricane-force winds to much of Minnesota. 

Winds were clocked at 100 mph at Rochester, with a gust of 89 mph at the Twin Cities International Airport, where the wind was sustained at 50 mph or greater for two hours straight. Numerous store windows were broken and large chimneys toppled. The top 10 floors of the Foshay building were evacuated with the tenants feeling seasick from the swaying building. Giant waves piled up boats on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. Shingles from the roofs of the airplane hangers at Wold Chamberlain Field (the predecessor to the International Airport) were peeled off. The surface observations at Wold Chamberlain show the character of the day.

Extreme non-thunderstorm winds of this sort have affected the region several times since 1949. They are almost always associated with intense low pressure systems. The very long duration of the damaging winds (in some cases lasting over 12 hours), and their large areal coverage (often occupying tens of thousands of square miles simultaneously) have led to damage and casualty statistics that rival those of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms.

   

Climate Historian Tom St. Martin generously provided the summary of the October 10, 1949 event below.

STORM TEARS CITY: BUILDINGS WRECKED, TREES TOPPLED. It was with this banner headline that the St. Paul Dispatch began its account of the "inland hurricane" which raked the Twin Cities and much of southern Minnesota on 10 October 1949. The storm generated wind gusts of 82 and 89 miles per hour, respectively, at the St. Paul and Twin Cities International airport stations, caused several injuries and left behind many uprooted trees, broken branches, downed utility lines, toppled chimneys, damaged roofs and broken windows. Damage in the Twin City area was said to have exceeded $1 million, at least one half of which occurred in St. Paul (where, according to news reports, damage was "greater" than in Minneapolis).

The high winds -- which were spawned by a deep low pressure system which had formed several days earlier in New Mexico -- also caused numerous deaths and injuries. According to the 10 October Dispatch, 27 deaths had been reported in the upper midwest states affected by the storm and, in the Twin Cities, a number of persons were injured by shards of glass from breaking windows, bricks from falling chimneys and/or from other wind driven debris. In St. Paul, a woman working on the third floor of the Great Northern building at Fourth and Jackson Streets was injured when many of the windows on the windward side of the building blew out, scattering shards of glass into adjacent work areas. In Minneapolis, several persons were said to have been buried when a chimney collapsed on the third floor level of the Sheridan hotel. Other reports indicated that, although many windows in Humboldt high school were blown out while classes were in session, the students inside escaped without injury. Newspapers also reported that Minneapolis's Foshay Tower "swayed so much" in the wind that several employees working inside became ill and were forced to leave the building.

In St. Paul, the first strong winds were noted at about 0730 hours on 10 October when airport anemometers registered southeasterly gusts of 48 miles per hour. The gale increased throughout the morning, producing 67 mile per hour gusts at the St. Paul airport at 0930 hours and sustained winds of about 55 miles per hour at the Twin Cities airport at 1130 hours. Peak gusts were recorded at both the St. Paul and Twin Cities airports at about 1300 hours and, at the St. Paul airport, persisted long enough to produce sustained (probably five minute) speeds of 77 miles per hour. The winds were accompanied by rain squalls which, according to the Dispatch's report, were "so fanned by the strong wind as to take the appearance of sheets of water". Average daily wind speed at the Twin Cities airport station was 29.8 miles per hour on 10 October with five minute sustained winds of 65 miles per hour and wind speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour extending over a period of three and one half hours. Newspaper accounts further indicated that in some parts of the state, wind gusts exceeded 100 miles per hour. The storm, of course, was accompanied by extremely low barometric pressures, including readings of 28.98 inches MSL at the Twin Cities airport station and 28.92 inches MSL at the St. Paul airport station.

And, taking note of an interesting -- but presumably coincidental -- anecdote, St. Paul newspapers reported that M. R. Hovde, the U.S. Weather Bureau's upper midwest section director was on vacation from his Minneapolis office on 10 October and, as a result, "officially missed the big blow."

 

Last modified: October 9, 2015

 

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