Observation Hill weather blog: The tornadoes that hit Duluth... or did they?
Observation Hill Northland weather information, photos and history Residents of West Duluth inspect garages destroyed by a possible tornado in May 1958. (News-Tribune file photo) It's often said that Duluth is immune to severe weather, and tornad...
Northland weather information, photos and history
Residents of West Duluth inspect garages destroyed by a possible tornado in May 1958. (News-Tribune file photo)
It’s often said that Duluth is immune to severe weather, and tornadoes in particular, because of the city’s topography and proximity to Lake Superior.
There is some truth behind that belief – the lake and the hillside certainly can have an effect on weather – but it’s wrong to believe that the city is completely safe from tornado touchdowns.
On at least two occasions – July 1935 and May 1958 – the Duluth News-Tribune carried accounts of storm damage in the city possibly caused by tornadoes.
We’ll start with the 1958 weather event, which caused the damage seen in the photo above. Here are excerpts from that article, which appeared in the May 27, 1958, paper, headlined “Twister Collapses Garage In Duluth; Hail Hits Area”:
A miniature tornado struck the Duluth area yesterday, collapsing a garage in Duluth and damaging two lake cabins. …
A witness said the violent winds picked up the garage “like a child’s toy” and smashed it back to earth. …
The small twister pulled off the doors of a garage owned by Irving West, 6611 Greene St. They bounced off the nearby Ing Stockland garage and landed about 30 to 40 yards away. …
A sudden gust of wind rattled the picture windows of the Stockland residence about 4:35 p.m. to signal the start of the storm in the Duluth area.
Stockland, who lives at 6617 Greene, said the wind was pulling up rocks and mud. He and his wife were at the rear of their house when the funnel, following the ravine along Highway 61, struck West’s garage. …
Mrs. Stockland said the wind storm, which she described as an “inverted ice cream cone,” disappeared after flattening the garage. It lasted about five minutes. …
The sides of the West and Ing Stockland homes were spattered with mud. …
The weather disturbance temporarily halted the city-regional track meet at Public Schools Stadium. Team members and spectators dashed for cover while the hail fell.
Ditches were dug to drain the track and allow the meet to resume.
A witness said the distant funnel-shaped storm “tossed out pieces of paper.”
High school track athletes watch a funnel cloud approach during a meet at Public Schools Stadium in May 1958. (George Starkey / News-Tribune)
The article and photos are not proof that a tornado actually touched down that spring day in Duluth more than a half-century ago. Nowadays, such a report would be followed by a National Weather Service survey crew to determine if the damage was caused by a tornado or by straight-line winds. But back then, there was no further investigation.
Now, for the possible tornado that hit Duluth in 1935. We’ll start on July 10, 1935, when a “tornadic cloud” passed over the city. Here is an excerpt from the account in the July 11 News-Tribune:
A vicious looking cylindrical cloud, having the outward appearance of a tornado in the making, moved over Duluth yesterday afternoon, giving residents what is believed to be their first sight here of the type of tornado clouds which frequently strike the Midwest plains.
The dark cloud traveled over the city about 3:30 p.m., crossing from west to east at an estimated speed of 30 miles an hour.
Outside of creating a stiff wind, putting one electricity circuit out for a few moments and creating widespread interest, the storm did little damage. Weather bureau officials, explaining the air condition, said that the clouds appeared as if two winds of different directions were carrying on a quarrel above the city. The barometer at the weather bureau dropped between .06 and .08 of an inch.
After the cloud passed a drenching rain fell, approximately an inch falling in the city. …
On July 11, the day after that much-seen tornadic cloud, a possible tornado touched down and caused damage in the Gary-New Duluth area. Here’s the account from the July 12, 1935, News-Tribune:
Swirling into the city on the wings of a torrential rain, a miniature tornado struck in the heart of the Gary-New Duluth district shortly before 8 a.m. yesterday, flattening a row of coal sheds, a frame garage and causing general damage to trees in the vicinity, besides damaging a steel coal carrier bridge at the American Steel and Wire Co.
The twister swept through the far western section of the city as a half-inch of rain drenched the entire community. In the remainder of the city, a 30-mile wind helped whip a .44-inch rainfall and hamper hundreds of persons bound for work. …
The United States weather bureau had no means of officially recording the twister, the high wind having limited itself to the Gary-New Duluth district. …
Residents in the vicinity of the storm watched a phenomena which seldom occurs in this section of the state. A garage owned by Andy Zilko, 1104 Ninety-seventh avenue west, was lifted 10 feet from the ground and dropped without damaging an automobile in the frame structure. The garage was completely demolished.
The wind destroyed a row of empty coal sheds owned by the Gary Lumber Co. and partially lifted a rood off an empty building at Fillmore street and Commonwealth while large branches were broken off many trees.
So, did tornadoes touch down in Duluth in 1935 or 1958? It may be impossible to tell now, but some kind of severe storm – tornadic or not – did cause damage in the city limits.
Are you aware of any tornado touchdowns in Duluth? Do you have any memories of these severe thunderstorms, or others that hit the city? Share your stories by going to this post on Observation Hill , the News Tribune's weather blog, and posting a comment.