Twin Ports Tornado: Could It Happen?

By KBJR News 1

August 4, 2010 Updated Aug 4, 2010 at 11:47 AM CDT

There is a common belief that Lake Superior protects Duluth from tornadoes.

And the truth is: tornadoes thrive on heat and the Northland's climate is famous for its cool temperatures.

In recorded history, no tornado has ever hit the Twin Ports but could it happen?

Meteorologist George Kessler has the answer.

August 6th, 1969, was a hot and humid day on the Vermilion Range. Those conditions spawned a tornado outbreak that created five F2 to F3 tornadoes between Tower and Ely, causing $600,000 in damage.

June 18th, 2001, was also a warm and humid day in Siren, Wisconsin.
That day, a supercell storm cloud unleashed an F3 tornado that caused $17-million in damage and killed several people.

Duluth, however, has never seen a tornado in the city limits.

"We've had some very close calls. A few years ago there was a funnel cloud over the Bong Bridge between Duluth and Superior. A funnel cloud means it could turn into a tornado."

The prime fuel for tornadoes is heat and the cool air over Lake Superior has given many people the impression that twisters can never form in the Twin Ports.

"Something like that couldn't happen. It doesn't seem feasible to me. You hear about tornadoes happening in rural areas and it doesn't seem like it could happen in a town like Duluth."

But the Lake is not a guarantee against tornadoes.

The 1969 outbreak sent a twister into Two Harbors that traveled for 12 miles but only caused $3,000 in damage.

"To say it can't happen is a big 'no-no,' because it has happened in the past and if we stay here long enough, it will happen again."

Dan Miller, science officer of the Duluth National Weather Service Office, says if a tornado does happen in the Twin Ports, being prepared ahead of time is the best safety tip.

"Think about different scenarios. Tornadoes are most common between 3 to 8 pm, so those activities you would do in the evening are the things that should come to mind first when you are thinking of all the different scenarios and making a plan."

And that plan should not rely on the myth that Lake Superior will always keep us safe.

"People feel safe because we're next to this big, cold body of water and this big hill. People should not be complacent. A tornado can and probably will occur in Duluth and we should all be prepared."

In Duluth, meteorologist George Kessler, the Northland's News Center.

For more tornado safety tips, log onto Northland's NewsCenter dot-com.