200 Year Anniversary of the First Reported Minnesota Tornado

precipitation and snow maps
Close-up of April 1820 Ft. Snelling log book.
Image credit: Minnesota DNR State Climatology Office

April 19, 1820 marks the date of the first tornado officially reported in Minnesota. It was a very typical Minnesota-like tornado. It was weak, and didn’t cause too much damage. Still it made an impression on the soldiers at on Cantonment New Hope, destined later to become Ft. Snelling. The comments in the weather log state:
“Tornado from the southwest…carried off the shingles from the barracks at four ‘o clock.”

Note that the details of actually seeing the tornado are rather brief. The word “tornado” was first coined in 1556 and was a modification of the word “tronada” in Spanish meaning “to turn” which sounds like what the officers witnessed.

The collection of temporary structures at Cantonment New Hope was no Ft. Snelling. The arrival of soldiers and support staff in August 1819 were tardy to their chosen site in the river bottoms and below the bluffs and across the river that would house the future fort. The winter of 1819-20 was a harsh one for people unaccustomed to the extreme cold. The buildings were flimsy with one almost succumbing to a feisty winter blast.

Of course tornadoes occurred in Minnesota before April 19, 1820. Undoubtedly Native Americans would have observed tornadoes. The aftermath of a tornado through a wooded area would be visible for many years after. Perhaps new information will be uncovered that will extend the record back further. In any case, tornadoes were and are part of Minnesota's climate,  and one should always cast a wary eye to the sky when the right conditions are present.

Modified April 15, 2020

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