Looking Back on the Tornadoes of 1998
This Thursday will mark the 20th anniversary of a devastating storm that spawned tornadoes throughout southern Minnesota...
The supercell that would end up creating 16 tornadoes, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, first popped up in southeastern South Dakota around two o'clock in the afternoon on March 29th, 1998. Over the next two hours, five weak tornadoes would form, as the storm made its way east.
Then, at 3:50 another tornado touched down in Murray County. It would tear through the farmland of Cottonwood County, before arriving in the town of Comfrey at 4:30 as an F3, destroying 50 homes along with most of the city's downtown. It would then grow to an F4, winds swirling at more than 200 miles an hour, and more than a mile wide, ripping through parts of Brown, Watonwan and Blue Earth Counties, killing one person in rural Hanska, before going back up southeast of Courtland around 5:15.
At roughly the same time just east of Nicollet, another tornado descended - this one with its sights set on St. Peter. Just a mile west of town, it caught a family driving in their van on highway 99, killing a six year old boy. Once it arrived in St. Peter, Gustavus Adolphus College would take the biggest hit from the F3 twister, as it took out several buildings, busting out most of the windows on campus. Luckily this all happened on a Sunday during Spring Break, avoiding countless casualties in the process.
Several more tornadoes would form, one of them doing heavy damage in Le Center, before the last twister finally lifted near the Wisconsin border before 7 o'clock.
Along with the two fatalities, 21 others were injured. Hundreds of homes, farms, churches, businesses and city buildings destroyed - thousands of them damaged, likely totaling a half billion dollars of devastation all told.
The story didn't end when the storm lifted, however. And over the course of this week, we'll see what was left behind, and what it would come to be. The people that stuck around to rebuild the town of Comfrey... those whose early years were forged by the destruction of St. Peter... the man that would lead the city going forward... the family that lost their son on the drive back home.
Every night this week on KEYC News 12 we'll bring you a fresh take on how that fateful Sunday afternoon unfolded, and how the region came together to do what it could to put the pieces back together.
-- KEYC News 12