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Minnesota’s earliest tornado

Storm that hit Pihl’s Park March 6 given statewide designation

March 26, 2017
Cody Benjamin - Register Staff Writer ( , Faribault County Register

The severe storm that uprooted trees, deroofed buildings and overturned a camper on March 6 in Pihl's Park, near Wells, actually included a tornado.

And not just any twister.

A March 17 survey by the National Weather Service (NWS) determined that the campground damage was the product of an EF-1 tornado one that struck earlier in the year than any other twister in the history of Minnesota.

Article Photos

The March 6 storm that did some heavy damage to the county’s Pihl’s Park, including flipping this camper over, was designated as a tornado that first touched down near Bricelyn and traveled nearly 10 miles to near the Wells area. It was designated by the National Weather Service last week as the earliest-in-the-season tornado ever reported in Minnesota.

Not long before 6 p.m. on that same night, March 6, the Twin Cities' NWS confirmed the presence of a tornado near Princeton and Zimmerman in the Sherburne County area. A separate twister, the third of the day, also touched down in Clarks Grove, north of Albert Lea.

But Faribault County's March 6 heavy winds, which forced Pihl's Park to close its campground and public park for an anticipated seven weeks' worth of repairs, were actually the first to strike at around 5:04 p.m. that evening, according to the NWS.

Trees, power lines and some homes were damaged by the two tornadoes outside of Faribault County, whereas the Pihl's Park twister, deemed a "Bricelyn tornado" by the NWS because of where it apparently originated, peaked with 90-miles-per-hour gusts as it overturned a camper and blew part of a roof off a bathhouse near Rice Lake.

"We're estimating around $10,000 in cleanup and repair costs," Faribault County engineer Mark Daly informed county commissioners March 21. "(Park caretaker) Mary Johnson is meeting to assess the damages, and we'll discuss adding potential shelters (for the future)."

The tornado responsible for the damage was the first of the three Minnesota twisters to touch down that day after 5 p.m. reports of ping pong ball-sized hail hitting near Bricelyn, continuing on a northeast trail for an estimated 10 miles toward Wells. And it was the earliest tornado to hit the state, according to the NWS, since a Truman storm on March 18 in 1968.

The Pihl's Park tornado's EF-1 classification, designating a "moderate damage" storm on a scale that ranges from EF-0 to EF-5, came after NWS conducted a survey of the affected area on March 17, roughly a week after the service received reports of area damage.

The Zimmerman and Clarks Grove twisters had originally been pegged as the record-breaking March tornadoes, but the NWS may have noted Faribault County's tornado earlier if it had not been for some additional inclement weather.

"The NWS says it did not receive reports of damage until the evening of March 10, just before several inches of snow fell in the area," KARE 11, of the Twin Cities, reported. "The team then had to wait for the snow to melt, finally conducting the survey on March 17."

Faribault County engineer Mark Daly estimated after the storm that Pihl's Park could be closed for nearly two months as repairs were planned and cleanup commenced. With support from county commissioners, he also hinted that the 20-acre park would not get serious attention until the grounds were not as wet.

A former private retreat donated to Faribault County in the 1960s, Pihl's Park is usually open seven days a week from the first of May through the first of October, with 30 campsites stationed near Wells.



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