16 tornadoes occurred on this day in 1998.  2 in Wisconsin (both rated F0) and 14 in the state of Minnesota.  This was the largest March occurrence of tornadoes in the state of Minnesota on record.  Per the NWS Twin Cities, prior to 1998, there were only 7 tornadoes known to have hit the state in March.

Note:  The Storm Prediction Center lists a total of 17 tornadoes.  They have an entry for an F3 in Nicollet County at 17:18 and one for an F3 in Le Sueur County at 17:35.  There should only be one entry.  Per the NWS Twin Cities, there was only one F3 that started 2 miles East of Nicollet in Nicollet County and ended 5 miles West of Le Center in Le Sueur County.  

Another Note:  The March 1998 Storm Data Publication mentions in an overview of the event that there were 7 tornadoes.  This is not correct.  I will need to see if there were corrections added in later publications.

In this summary, we will give an overview of the event in MN and go into more detail on the 2 strongest tornadoes for the day: an F4 that tracked through parts of 6 counties with the hardest hit areas in Comfrey and Lake Hanska and an F3 that hit St. Peter.

Overview

Track map from NWS Twin Cities

Summary of events – Details from NWS Twin Cities

  • The first tornado touched down at 3:23 p.m. CST near Lismore in Nobles County. 
  • Five more tornadoes briefly followed in Nobles and southern Murray Counties.
  • North of Fulda (Murray County) , the strongest and longest tornado developed.  It was an F4 that was on the ground for 77 minutes and tracked 67 miles through several counties (from just north of Fulda to just west of Nicollet), causing major damage to farms and homes. 
  • The worst damage was in Comfrey and the Lake Hanska area. 
  • As the tornado dissipated just west of Nicollet, a new tornado formed just east of Nicollet and went on to hit St Peter.  It produced F3 damage.
  • Other tornadoes caused significant damage in Le Center, Lonsdale and near Castle Rock. 
  • The last tornado was rated F0, was on the ground for just one mile, and dissipated five miles southwest of Hastings at 6:48 p.m. CST. 
  • All told, over a span of 3 hours and 20 minutes, 13 tornadoes occurred along this path, with the first tornado touching down about 25 miles east of South Dakota, and the last one dissipating only eight miles from Wisconsin.  
  • A 14th tornado (not shown on the map) touched down just west of Wabasha in southeast Minnesota. It was rated F0.

Comfrey, Lake Hanska F4 Tornado

Per the NWS Twin Cities, this tornado tracked 67 miles with a max with of 2200 yards (1.25 miles). There were 19 injuries and 1 fatality reported.

The tornado began 7 miles east of Avoca in Murray County and traveled through Cottonwood, Brown, extreme Northwest Watonwan, and Northwest Blue Earth County.  It lifted 4 miles east of Courtland in Nicollet County.

NWS Summary Information from Storm Data

A strong tornado which began in Murray County tracked across Cottonwood County and then further northeast.  The tornado destroyed numerous farms, farm equipment, buildings, trees, power lines and poles, vehicles, and other structures in its path.  A vehicle was tossed a hundred yards as it hit the first farm in southwest Cottonwood County.  People in the basement of the house on this farm received minor injuries.  The tornado also destroyed a church near Jeffers, and destroyed numerous homes in the southern part of Comfrey, a city which is only partly in Cottonwood County.

The tornado ripped through the village of Comfrey (Brown County) destroying a grain elevator and damaging 75% of the town.  Much of downtown Comfrey destroyed including the town hall. School heavily damaged.  100 people made homeless.  50 homes destroyed.  130 farmsteads damaged or destroyed in Brown county.  500 dairy cows killed.  One man critically injured in collapse of farmstead northwest of the town of Hanska.  He died the next day.  35 buildings destroyed or damaged in far Northwest Blue Earth county.  Damage estimate estimated.  Property damage to extreme northwest Blue Earth county across Cambria township estimated at 2 million. Property damage to extreme northwest Watonwan county estimated at 245 thousand.

Discrepancies:

We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the March 1998 Storm Data Publication and the NWS Twin Cities Summary of the event and found the following differences:

Path Length:

  • SPC/NCDC have the length at 73.5 miles.  
  • The NWS Summary states the tornado tracked 67 miles.
  • Storm Data has conflicting information.  In a blurb at the beginning of the document, they say the path length was 73 miles.  But in the county breakdown, provided by the NWS, it says the track was 67 miles.

Max Width:

  • SPC has a max width of 1500 yards.
  • The remaining sources list a max width of 2200 yards (1.25 miles).

Tornado Path

Click Map To Enlarge

SPC coordinates:  Start: 43.95 / -95.53   End:  44.27 / -94.27      

Note:  Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.

Images via NWS Twin Cities and Storm Data

An aerial view of the town of Comfrey, in South Central Minnesota after being hit by an F4 tornado (Image extracted from Storm Data)
Video image capture of the tornado near Lake Hanska, about 15 miles southwest of New Ulm. Courtesy of Roy Janni (from NWS Twin Cities Summary)
Base reflectivity of hook echo over Brown County (Via NWS Twin Cities)
Storm relative velocity over Brown County (via NWS Twin Cities)
Volunteer rescue workers and residents of the town of Comfrey, MN inspect the tornado damage, shortly after the tornado passed (Image extracted from Storm Data)
Comfrey grain bin tossed two blocks
Comfrey School
Aerial view of tornado damage in Cottonwood County
Citizens had been evacuated from Comfrey the next day

Newspaper Clippings

St. Peter F3 Tornado

Per the NWS Twin Cities, this tornado tracked 18 miles with a max width of 2200 yards (1.25 miles).  There was one fatality reported.  A 6-year-old boy was killed when the tornado struck a vehicle. 

NWS Summary Information from Storm Data

Tornado made a direct hit on the city of St. Peter and Gustavius Adolphus College.  All major buildings on campus suffered varying degrees of damage.  The spire on Christ Chapel snapped in half.  70% of the windows on campus were broken.  500 homes were destroyed in St. Peter, 1,700 were damaged.  Over 1,000 trees uprooted.  One person killed just outside St. Peter when the tornado struck a vehicle.  St. Peter Catholic Church destroyed.  Hospital severely damaged.  Roof ripped off library.  25% of books lost. Debris from St. Peter found 50 miles away in southern suburbs of the Twin Cities.  60 rural homes and farms damaged or destroyed from Courtland to St. Peter.  Rural damage estimated at 6.5 million.

Discrepancies:

We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the March 1998 Storm Data Publication and the NWS Twin Cities Summary of the event and found the following differences:

The main discrepancy is that the SPC has this listed as 2 tornadoes when there is just one.  See note at beginning of narrative.

    Tornado Path

    Click Map To Enlarge

    SPC coordinates:  Start: 44.28 / -94.17   End:  44.40 / -93.83

    Used NCDC County Coordinates

    Note:  Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.

    Images via NWS Twin Cities and Storm Data

    St. Peter Damage via NWS Twin Cities

    Newspaper Clippings

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