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Tuesday marks 50th anniversary of deadliest tornado outbreak in northern Minnesota

NORTHERN MINNESOTA– While the frequency of tornadoes and tornado deaths in northern Minnesota is relatively lower compared to other parts of the state, or the upper Midwest, one August day in 1969 made the history books.

An area of low pressure approaching from the southwest, bringing in warm and humid air. The heat and humidity, combined with strong winds in the upper levels, provided the conditions favorable for not only severe thunderstorms, but tornadoes as well.

According to the Duluth NWS, a total of 12 tornadoes touched down over a three-hour span across Aitkin, Itasca, Crow Wing, Cass, St. Louis and Lake Counties.

Six of the tornadoes were rated at least F-3 on the Fujita Scale, with one rated F-4. Shown below are some of the more noteable tornadoes of the outbreak.

BACKUS: This was the first tornado of the outbreak to cause damage. This tornado touched down west of Pine River, and tracked near the Backus area before dissipating near Big Portage Lake just northeast of Backus. The tornado was rated F-3, and traveled 18 miles. No one was killed, however four people were injured and $850,000 was done in damages ($5.95 million in 2019 dollars). 13 farmsteads and 11 homes were destroyed just south and east of Backus.

OUTING: This tornado was the deadliest of the outbreak. The tornado touched down around 4:48 p.m. near Stewart Lake, about 12 miles NE of Pine River, and raced east-northeast, blasting through the Outing, Roosevelt Lake and Reservoir Lake areas. The tornado was rated F-4, traveled for 33 miles and reached its maximum width over Outing, at 1.5 miles wide. 12 people were killed (11 in the Outing and Roosevelt Lake area, one near Reservoir Lake), 70 were injured, and $2.15 million was done in damage ($15.05 million in 2019 dollars). The tornado continued northeast, eventually dissipating just south of Hill City at 5:28 p.m.

BOULDER LAKE: Around 6:50 p.m., another deadly tornado touched down near Boulder Lake and traveled east, dissipating just west of Two Harbors. This tornado was rated F-3, traveled for 21 miles, and killed two people on the eastern shore of Boulder Lake.

FLOODWOOD: About 45 minutes before the Boulder Lake tornado, another strong tornado touched down near the Floodwood area, and quickly moved east-northeast, dissipating near Maple Leaf Lake, about 4 miles northwest of Alborn. This tornado was also rated F-3, and traveled on the ground for 18 miles. While no deaths were reported, 20 people were injured and 39 livestock were killed.

Overall, 15 people were killed, 106 were injured, and a total of $8 million in damage was done, equivalent to $55.99 million in 2019.

Click here to read more about the tornado outbreak.

Austin Haskins

Meteorologist/Web Producer

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