On August 6th, 1969, the air across Minnesota was hot and humid. Temperatures across the state were in the upper 80s to low 90s, with the dew points touching the 70-degree mark. The atmosphere seemed to be primed for a storm. During the afternoon, storms began to form ahead of a cold front draped across the eastern Dakotas and Western Minnesota. A storm formed near the Fargo/Grand Forks area during the early afternoon and a second one developed rapidly over Wadena County. Over a span of nearly three hours starting around 3:20 pm CST, 12 tornadoes tore across miles of prime hunting and fishing land, destroying property and overturning the lives of those in their crosshairs. By the time the final tornado ended, 15 people were killed and over 100 people injured. This outbreak produced the fifth-deadliest tornado in Minnesota state history. There were a total of 12 tornadoes. Three were rated F2, eight were rated F3, and the strongest was rated F4. Nine of these tornadoes affected the largest county in the state, St. Louis County.

According to the Storm Data Publication from August 1969, these tornadoes were produced by two large storm complexes, composed of several storm cells. They were spaced out by an area of 45 to 60 miles and moved to the northeast. These storms produced severe thunderstorms, which produced damaging winds, large hail, and twelve tornadoes. The three killer tornadoes produced were all products of the southern cell. Most of these tornadoes have little to no documentation, outside of damage path information, and the occasional eyewitness account.

The focus of this summary will be on the most notable tornadoes to occur this day: two F3s in Floodwood and Boulder Lake, and the F4 that affected areas of Crow Wing, Cass, Aitkin Counties. A special thank you to Mary Zier Havnor for sharing her photos and story, as well as the residents of Outing, MN for sharing their stories. Many thanks to Joseph Moore, Warning Coordination Meteorologist from the NWS Duluth for sending us photos, maps slide scans and aerial images from the event.

The Outing Tornado

SPC Stats

Path length: 32.3 miles

Width:  833 yards

Fatalities:  12

Injuries:  70

Rating:  F4

County:  Crow Wing, Cass, Aitkin

The tornado formed near the southeastern side of Stewart Lake, in Timothy Township at around 3:48 pm CST. Not much is known about the damage along its path between the starting point and the southwestern side of Crooked Lake Township. As the tornado approached the southwest part of the township, it crossed into areas between Andrus and Wood Lake, about 2.5 miles west of the tiny resort town of Outing, population 296. Per the NWS Duluth, while approaching the area on the west side of Roosevelt Lake, the tornado grew to about 1.5 miles in width and reached its peak intensity of an F4. The tornado hit the Roosevelt Narrows/Simmons Resort, located on the western shoreline, at 4:05 pm CST. Cabins, cars, and trees were tossed into the lake. In the Simmons resort, the tornado ripped the roof off of the main lodge. Three additional cabins further down the hill and the road were swept away by the winds. A large home, which had belonged to the former owners of the resort, was demolished and swept away. Unfortunately, there were two deaths confirmed at Simmons, along with 22 injuries.

The tornado then crossed the waters of Roosevelt Lake, and moved towards Bethany Bible Camp on the other side. 28 people from the Bethany Fellowship hunkered down in three cabins (two along the lakeshore and one on the hill above) as the tornado struck. The compound took a direct hit. One of the cabins was thrown into the lake, about 100 yards from where it had originated. Seven people were killed at Bethany, four of which were thrown into the lake. Outside of the compound, two others were killed along the shoreline. Two cabins to the south of the Bethany compound were swept away.

While doing research for this summary, Matt came across a few stories from people who were either in the area or directly in the path. Among these stories, there were descriptions of the tornado covering the northern sky and feeling the ground rumble as it passed by their location. There was one story that caught his eye. It came from the daughter of the then-owner of Simmons Resort on Roosevelt Lake. This is her story that she sent to us via email:

“On August 6th we had walked into Outing and had just arrived back at the resort around 4:00. We were sitting on the screened-in porch/office of the lodge, visiting with my mom, dad and grandmother. The phone rang and it was Floyd telling my dad that he had just received a call from Clint Converse, the local Forest Ranger, who said that there was a tornado coming our way from the west and that it would be a good idea to warn all of the resort guests to stay off of the lake. Floyd was helping Mr. Converse by calling several people in the community to warn them. My dad hopped in his truck and headed down the hill to notify everyone. We had been exposed to tornado warnings in Iowa, but had never really been affected by an actual tornado. Northern Minnesota rarely ever saw tornadoes at that time, so I don’t think any of us really felt too much fear or concern. After my dad arrived back at the lodge, we continued our visit on the porch and he stood by the front door looking to the west. All of the sudden he turned to us and said ‘we’re going to the basement.’ I remember seeing a black wall of clouds, but still had no idea of what was about to happen. We quickly gathered our dog and all of us, dad, mom, grandma, Roberta and me, headed down the stairs. We were not there very long when we heard the roar…and it is exactly like a train coming. It got really, really loud, and my dad said ‘we’re going into the fruit cellar, so we moved into a very tiny room off of the basement and shut the door. It was only a matter of minutes and it was perfectly quiet again. Dad opened the door and walked to the bottom of the steps with all of us following close behind. When we looked up the stairs, all we could see was blue sky where the top of our stairway should have been. Dad led the way and the rest of us followed and then realized the whole roof of the lodge was gone. There were very odd things, like the cake pan that was sitting on the kitchen counter from the cake my mom had just baked, but the cake in it was gone. I remember where we had been surrounded by huge, tall beautiful pines that were now completely barren with no trees in sight. We could see straight across the lake to where Bethany Camp had been and was now totally gone, and all the way down the highway to where Floyd and Thelma’s house was no longer there…There were several people injured and two people died at our resort, an elderly gentleman, who I was told had a heart attack and a middle aged woman, who died from injuries. A young couple from Iowa, that was in Cabin 4 with their parents and other family members, told of the young dad being picked up and thrown out of the cabin and finding their baby close by on top of a mattress completely fine.”

As the tornado continued east-northeast, it tracked through the Leavitt Lake area, which is about two miles east-northeast of town. Along West Leavitt Road, roofs and walls were torn off of several cabins along the northern shoreline. Shortly afterward, the tornado continued northeast, through the northwestern side of Mae Township, and toward the areas near Reservoir Lake and Third Guide Lake. One property was damaged and one fatality was reported in the Reservoir Lake area. About 1.5 miles away, at Third Guide Lake, the tornado cut down about 1,500 acres of birch and aspen.

The Duluth News Tribune published an article for the 50th anniversary of this event entitled, “Still picking up the pieces:  1969 tornado outbreak at 50.”  In that article, they submitted personal accounts from the Zagar Sisters who survived the devastation at Leavitt Lake. 

Marge Zagar Burns was only 9 years old when the tornado hit.  She recalls, “The day the tornado hit, Mom left me with my three older sisters. She went to nearby Emily to wash the clothes. We were watching ‘I Love Lucy’ on TV, I remember watching the picture turn to black and white lines.”

Her sister Katie was 15 at the time.  “I remember screaming prayers at the top of our lungs, watching the big tree through the window at the neighbor’s cabin fall down like a toothpick, I remember not being able to hold on to Mary (age 11) or really any of you as we all tumbled and were thrown about as the walls, floors and roof of the cabin were ripped away. When it was all done I remember looking for the three of you, we didn’t have shoes, I remember we were on the ground as the floor had been ripped up and we had rolled off the foundation and we were dumped on the ground.” 

Carole Zagar Korte, age 10 in 1969, recalled, “My sister Mary was picked up and dropped in the kitchen sink on the few remaining cupboards, because she broke away from our huddle in the corner of the addition to run and save our dog Penny.” 

The girls survived with minor injuries.  Carole had a large cut on her lower leg and Katie had gash on her arm. Carole stated, “We have my sister Katie to thank for saving us all that day, because she had read a TV Guide article just the week before on how to take shelter in the event you are in a home without a basement when a Tornado strikes!”

The tornado narrowed as it entered Aitkin County near the township of Swatara, but ultimately missed the village by one mile. Two farms nearby were flattened. As the tornado approached the southern side of Hill City, it destroyed the Ashton farm about two miles south of town. The farmhouse and barn were damaged, and the family took shelter in a concrete chicken coop as the tornado struck. It killed 2 calves, 2 pigs, and a stallion on the property. Fortunately, the tornado missed Hill City, and dissipated near Dagle Lake, about 2 miles to the southeast at 4:28 pm CST. The twister traveled its 32-mile path in about 40 minutes. It produced $2.15 million dollars in damage (1969 dollars).

Tornado Path

SPC coordinates:  Start: 46.78 / -94.22  End:  46.97 / -93.57

Veer in track is based on damage reports and from a map provided by the NWS Duluth

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

Photos

An aerial shot of the path of destruction left by the F-4 tornado. Courtesy MN DNR via the NWS Duluth Summary.
Aerial View of the damage path, looking to the east towards Bethany Cabins, which was in the clearing on the eastern shore. Simmon’s is in the foreground. Credit MN DNR via the NWS Duluth Summary.
Former owner of the resort, Floyd Simmons, surveying the damage done to his home, the Bethany Cabins property can be seen in the background. Credit Mary Havenor.
Close-up of the Simmons Resort main lodge and office. Credit Mary Havenor.
Damage from the Outing tornado via the NWS Duluth Summary.
Outing tornado via the NWS Duluth Summary.
Aerial view of Sunset Hill Rd. on the Eastern shore of Roosevelt Lake with Bethany Bible Retreat in the upper right part of the screen. Courtesy of NWS Duluth.
Close up of the damage from Simmons Resort. Credit NWS Duluth/Scott Lincoln.
Per the NWS Duluth: "Total destruction on Lake Roosevelt. At the bottom of the curved road, an entire cabin is missing after being swept into Lake Roosevelt." Photo courtesy Scott Lincoln.
Damage from the Outing F4 tornado via NWS Duluth Summary.
A close-up of the timber within the path of the F-4 tornado. Courtesy MN DNR via the NWS Duluth Summary.
Aerial photo of damage from the Outing tornado via the NWS Duluth.
Aerial photo of damage from the Outing tornado via the NWS Duluth.

Newspaper Clippings

Discrepancies:

We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the August 1969 Storm Data Publication, Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes and the NWS Duluth Summary and found the following differences:

Path Width:

  • SPC/NCDC have a width of 833 yards.
  • The NWS summary has a range of widths from 1 to 1.5 miles.
  • Grazulis lists the width at 800 yards.

Path Length:

  • SPC/NCDC have a length of 32.3 miles.
  • Grazulis/NWS summary list the length at 33 miles.
  • A memorial in Outing says that the tornado traveled 38 miles.

    The Floodwood Tornado

    SPC Stats

    Path length: 18.4 miles

    Width:  2933 yards

    Fatalities:  0

    Injuries:  20

    Rating:  F3

    County:  St. Louis

    About 30 minutes after the Outing tornado ended, another one formed about 3 miles northwest of the community of Floodwood, which had a population of 660 at the time. The tornado rapidly expanded to 700 yards as it crossed US Highway 2, entering a forested area and damaged a farm near St. Vincent Rd. Moving east-northeast, it approached the area of Johnson Rd. and State Route 73, it grew to about 1,400 yards. Three farms in this area received major damage. The Eino Jarvi farm was completely demolished, with pieces of the house blown all across the property. As the tornado continued along State Route 29, it damaged four farms along Dusek Road and Sokai Road. A property along Sokai Rd. had multiple buildings damaged. A house belonging to Paul Jansen had an exterior wall torn off and the roof ripped off. Two more farms in the area, one of which belonged to the Dusek family, suffered severe damage. The farm lost all seven buildings on the property, and 15 heads of cattle. Similar damage was also found on the Tollgarrad farm, about half a mile down the road. The house at that location was leveled and the cinder block foundation was also shifted. Further down State Highway 29, the tornado tore into the Frank Mayzlik property on the western banks of the St. Louis River. Here, the barn was destroyed and the house was shifted off of its foundation by about 10-15 feet.

    Continuing northeast, the twister crossed the St. Louis River and followed Swan Lake Road through Ness Township. Another property was damaged at the intersection of Swan Lake Rd. & McGonagle Rd. The Ness Township Hall was also destroyed, with large pieces of the floor thrown into the surrounding treelines. The tornado crossed County Route 5 and blew down large swaths of pine forests between here and Aerie Lake. According to documentation from the NWS Duluth summary and the August 1969 Storm Data Publication of the event, there was tree damage on the north side of the path up to two miles away from the center. The tornado then began to narrow as it entered Alborn Township. This area experienced mainly tree damage, with occasional property damage along the southern shore of Aerie Lake. The tornado continued to the northeast and dissipated on the northeastern shore of Maple Leaf Lake at 5:30 pm CST.  It traveled 18 miles in 24 minutes.  There were 20 injuries, but fortunately, no deaths.  This was the third F3 tornado of this outbreak and the eighth tornado of the day overall.

    Tornado Path

    SPC coordinates:  Start: 46.95 / -92.98   End:  47.02 / -92.60     

    Veer in track is based on damage reports and from a map provided by the NWS Duluth

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

    Photos

    Damage from Dusek farm. Some documents described the damage here as being as intense as the Outing Tornado (NWS Duluth Archive).
    The home of Paul Jansen had an exterior wall tore off their home near Floodwood. Their farm was off State Route 73 (NWS Duluth/News Archive).
    Damage from the Tollgaard farm. NWS Duluth/Joseph Moore.
    Floodwood tree damage via NWS Duluth.

    Newspaper Clippings

    Discrepancies:

    We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the August 1969 Storm Data Publication, Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes and the NWS Duluth Summary and found the following differences:

    Path Width:

    • SPC/NCDC have a width of 2933 yards.
    • NWS Summary has a range of widths from 1 to 2 1/2 miles.
    • Grazulis lists the width at 800 yards.

    Path Length:

    • SPC/NCDC have a length of 18.4 miles.
    • Grazulis/NWS Summary lists the length at 18 miles.

    Rating:

    • SPC/NCDC/NWS Summary have an F3 rating.
    • Grazulis lists the rating as F2.

      Boulder Lake/Two Harbors Tornado

      SPC Stats

      Path length: 17.4 miles

      Width:  117 yards

      Fatalities:  2

      Injuries:  3

      Rating:  F3

      County:  St. Louis, Lake

      The twelfth and final tornado of this outbreak formed at 5:50 pm CST, on the eastern shores of Boulder Lake Reservoir, which is about 18 miles north of Duluth. The tornado had a width of about 25 yards near its origin point. Near this area, it destroyed a cabin at the Silver Fox Resort, and sadly two deaths occurred at this location.

      This tornado moved to the east-southeast through the forests of the North Shore area.  According to aerial surveys done after the event, damage was shown to have mainly been confined to trees and the occasional logging camp between the Silver Fox Resort and Two Harbors. As the tornado approached areas near Valley Road, it was documented to have skipped along the ground twice. The first time was for about 1 mile and the second was for 2.5 miles. It was in this area where the tornado reached its peak width of 400 yards. Tree damage was prevalent, with 3 cabins/properties were impacted to unknown extents. By 6 pm CST, the tornado arrived on the northwestern side of Two Harbors, population of about 4,500 at the time. It hit the J.C Campbell Lumberyard. Large piles of fresh-cut pine boards were blown over and across the yard. Boxcars that were being loaded with lumber were also blown off the tracks.

      The tornado continued through the northern side of Two Harbors, which wasn’t developed at the time. It moved into the Lakeview National Golf Course, and caused mainly tree damage. As the tornado continued towards Lake Superior, it dissipated along Minnesota State Highway 61. It lifted at 6:15 pm CST after traveling 21 miles through St. Louis and Lake Counties.

      Tornado Path

      SPC coordinates:  Start: 47.05 / -92.15   End:  47.03 / -91.72     

      Corrected coordinates:  Start 47.054428 / -92.157116  End:  47.035582 / -91.649975

      Corrected path is based on damage reports. The SPC/NWS path is too far south, missing the Silver Fox Resort where two fatalities occurred, and ending west of Two Harbors. The tornado moved through the northern part of town before lifting.

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

      Photos

      Aerial Image taken near the Silver Fox Resort on Boulder Lake, where two people died (NWS Duluth/Joseph Moore).
      Close up of the damage at Boulder Lake (NWS Duluth/Joseph Moore).
      Yard workers cleaning up the mess of boards left behind by the tornado (NWS Duluth/News Tribune).
      View of the one of the boxcars blown over in the railroad junction near the lumber yards (NWS Duluth/News Tribune).

      Newspaper Clippings

      Videos

      Discrepancies:

      We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the August 1969 Storm Data Publication, Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes and the NWS Duluth Summary and found the following differences:

      Path Width:

      • The SPC/NCDC list a width of 117 yards. 
      • The NWS Summary has a range of widths from 50 to 400 yards.
      • Grazulis notes that the width was 200 yards.

      Path Length:

      • The NWS and Storm Data list a length of 17.4 miles.
      • Grazulis/NWS Summary notes that the length was 21 miles.

        Rating:

        • The SPC/NCDC and NWS Summary have a rating of F3.
        • Grazulis lists an F2 rating.

            Sources:

            The Storm Prediction Center

            NCDC Storm Events Database

            August 1969 Storm Data Publication

            NWS Duluth Summary of the Outbreak

            Cass County Historical Society

            Aitkin County Historical Society

            GenDisasters.com Article of the Outing Tornado

            Satellite Images of the Outing Damage 1

            Satellite Images of the Outing Damage 2

            Satellite Images of the Outing Damage 3

            newspapers.com

            Johnson, B. (2019, August 03). Still picking up the pieces: 1969 tornado outbreak at 50. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/news/4045248-Still-picking-up-the-pieces-1969-tornado-outbreak-at-50

            Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 1106-1107.

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