40 Years Ago, Tornado Tore From Lake Harriet To Har Mar Mall

Nearly 40 years ago, the Twin Cities was hit by a tornado of epic proportions, John Lauritsen reports (2:36). WCCO 4 News At 6 - June 10, 2021

Video Transcript

AMELIA SANTANIELLO: A tornado of epic proportions hit the Twin Cities nearly 40 years ago.

FRANK VASCELLARO: On June 14, 1981, the Lake Harriet/Har Mar tornado touched down in Edina on a Sunday afternoon. It then created a path of destruction through Minneapolis as it traveled northeast into Roseville. 83 people were hurt, and one person was killed. John Lauritsen spoke with those who saw it up close.

- I don't think we were in the basement no more than 10 seconds.

JOHN LAURITSEN: Even by severe weather standards, this F-3 tornado hit quickly and with a purpose. With wind speeds reaching 160 miles an hour, it moved 15 miles across the Twin Cities. A nine-year-old boy was hospitalized after being flushed down a culvert. A man jogging around Lake Harriet was hit by a flying tree limb.

- And I went down on both knees. I tried to get up, and I couldn't get up. I laid there for about a half an hour until the ambulance came.

JOHN LAURITSEN: The tornado initially touched down at 50th and France in Edina. The marquee on this movie theater looks good now, but 40 years ago, it was one of the first casualties.

BILL BARINGTON: Yeah, definitely. That's the worst time I've ever seen.

JOHN LAURITSEN: Retired police officer Bill Barington was the first to call in the storm after he saw strong winds hit an apartment building. It's a call he hopes saved lives.

BILL BARINGTON: And I noticed the roof started coming off, and the debris started coming over the ramp and hitting my squad damaging it, breaking windows and headlights.

KENNY BLUMENFELD: It was a spectacle, and people flocked into Minneapolis, Edina, and especially Roseville to see the damage.

JOHN LAURITSEN: For people in Minneapolis, it's the Lake Harriet tornado. For people in Roseville, it's the Har Mar tornado. And even though the lake and mall are about 15 miles apart, the storm connected them in more ways than one.

KENNY BLUMENFELD: It legendarily dropped fish from Lake Harriet into the Har Mar Target parking lot.

JOHN LAURITSEN: Senior climatologist Kenny Blumenfeld was a kid when the tornado touched down just blocks from his home. Another climatologist in 1981 was so fascinated with the storm that he went out of his way to map it.

KENNY BLUMENFELD: So he actually walked the entire damage path from Edina through Minneapolis into Roseville.

JOHN LAURITSEN: 40 years later, the tornado still serves as a reminder of just how destructive and devastating mother nature can be.

KENNY BLUMENFELD: You could see the damage for weeks and even months afterwards as it tore through houses and neighborhoods in South Minneapolis right up into Roseville.

JOHN LAURITSEN: John Lauritsen, WCCO 4 News.

FRANK VASCELLARO: 120 national guardsmen were called in after the storm to prevent looting in Roseville. It's estimated the tornado was on the ground for about 26 minutes. At one point, it lifted over the University of Minnesota without doing any damage.