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National Weather Service Survey Team Assessing Fridley Tornado Damage

Meteorologists will have a conclusion late this afternoon.

It seems like Fridley "gets picked on by tornadoes" more than other cities, said Assistant State Climatologist Pete Boulay of the Minnesota State Climatology Office.

He was talking about Sunday’s storm, in which a tornado warning went out to all parts of Anoka County but the bulk of damage in the county seemed to land on Fridley. He was also recalling the 1965 tornadoes that hit Fridley, part of a storm that was the Twin Cities' biggest and deadliest on record.

Sunday’s storm in Fridley was reported by trained spotters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service (NWS), based in Chanhassen, and local law enforcement. The NWS also got reports of a tornado from Fridley residents and a video from a traffic camera from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT).

Late Monday afternoon, the National Weather Service was set to announce whether a tornado, or several, did indeed touch down in Fridley. The survey team is looked at the damage in Fridley on Monday and will judge the strength of the tornado based on damage reports.

So how does the survey team of meteorologists determine whether there was a tornado?

“We rely heavily on spotter and law enforcement reports," said National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Franks. “In this case, we have several reports of funnels and debris, so that’s the visual evidence.”

According to the National Weather Service, a trained spotter first saw one-inch hail in Fridley at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, along with wind damage to garden sheds at Hwy. 100 and I-694. Four minutes later, Fridley law enforcement reported a tornado at 51st and University Avenue, with a roof off of a house. At 2:45 p.m. on Sunday, a trained spotter reported wind damage at Central Avenue and 73rd Street, with six-inch tree limbs down.

“In this case, it does look like tornado damage,” Franks said. “Now we have to determine the strength of the tornado, where it touched down and where it picked up.”

Winds vs. Tornado
Straight-line winds blow things in a certain pattern, and any damage caused by strong winds usually leaves debris facing the same way, Franks explained.

But tornadoes are a different story.

“Tornado damage is more chaotic,” he said. “You’ll get fallen trees facing east, and other trees facing west. It’s more of a convergent signature.”

Tornadoes bring in air from all directions, Franks added, and sometimes debris is tossed upward.

Fridley a ‘Torando Alley?’
Franks thinks it’s just a coincidence that tornadoes seem to end up in Fridley, despite the fact that some people believe the city to be in a “tornado alley.”

“There’s no tornado magnet or anything like that in Fridley,” Franks said.

But looking at the history of tornadoes in Fridley, including the legendary 1965 tornadoes, Boulay said severe weather is nothing new to the town.

“Fridley seems to be one of those spots that gets picked on by tornadoes,” he said.

Predicting a Tornado
Sunday’s storm warning was ideal, Franks said, in that before any tornado hit the Twin Cities, forecasters saw a rotation, based on radar, above St. Louis Park, and were able to warn about the route of the storm.

“It’s what we hope for,” he said. “Before it touches down and before it does damage to anything, it gave us some lead time.”

But every storm has a “very different character,” Franks explained, so it’s not always easy to predict them.

Boulay, of the climatology office, thinks people couldn’t get pictures of the actual tornado Sunday because it could have been low in the sky.

“Tornadoes can vary in length from the base of the cloud to the ground,” he said. “Sometimes they are low in the sky. I believe that was the case yesterday.”

He added that the Twin Cities is lucky to have a “good system of storm spotters.”

“Tornadoes are very short-lived and they also move very fast,” Boulay said. “They’re not going to be visible for many miles.”

Debunking Urban Myth
While some believe tornadoes don’t touch down in large metropolitan areas, Franks said there is no scientific evidence to support that.

The only theory with some scientific evidence is this:

Major downtown areas, with a heavy population and large, tall buildings, “might disrupt the flow of the air going into the tornado a little bit,” Franks said. The bumpy surface on the ground would cause that to happen, he said.

“For the most part, tornadoes do what they’re going to do,” Franks said. “There is no evidence that it doesn’t touch down or plow right into cities. We still get pretty big tornadoes here, so it’s not a showstopper.”

Update (9:37 p.m.): The National Weather service has not yet announced a confirmation of a tornado touchdown in Fridley Sunday, or any details about the severity of the storm.

Update (12:11 a.m.): The National Weather service has confirmed the tornado in Fridley as an EF1 or EF2 tornado, which was at its strongest in north Minneapolis and as it entered Fridley. The full report can be found

Rebecca Grant May 26, 2011 at 01:37 AM
I really do think Fridley has a unique history with tornadoes. Although I live in Texas now, I am from Fridley, and my parents and relatives grew up in Fridley. My father's family home on Norton Ave. in Fridley was totally demolished in the 1929 tornado. Of course, the 1965 tornadoes were so unbelievable, there is even a book written about it called The Night the Sirens Blew.....a total of 24 tornadoes hit the Twin Cities that night, 3 of them hit Fridley, demolishing much of the city. Another tornado touched down in 1975, close to the 10 year anniversary of the '65 tornadoes. I think there was another incident in the '80's, as I recall. And now this one. Not sure why Fridley is so attractive to tornadoes. We used to believe it was because they followed the Mississippi River. But that doesn't make any sense, either. I have to say this.....the residents of Fridley have always felt a bond between them. I think these tornadoes have bonded the residents together. I still feel close to all my classmates from my Fridley graduating class....we were all about 8 years old when the '65 tornadoes hit....it traumatized many of us for life. We had to double up in the classrooms and go to school in shifts as 4 out of 6 schools were damaged or destroyed. Everyone had to help everyone clean up and rebuild. Everyone got the jitters whenever tornado sirens went off after that. So many stories....crazy tornado stories. Yes, the residents are bonded together forever in Fridley!
Chris Steller (Editor) May 26, 2011 at 04:43 PM
Great comment, Rebecca—thanks. Take a look at the map of the path of Sunday's tornado that the city government produced. Unless it was going due north it's hard to see how it could have traveled farther within Fridley in a straight line. It seemed to spend as much time as possible here.

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