Remembering Hartland’s tornado with three tails

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 15, 2002

Tornadoes can come at anytime from any direction, and sometimes even in a series. This was certainly true for the two tornadoes that devastated Hartland on the evening of June 19, 1931.

The first tornado came at 8:30 p.m. from the northwest, instead of the traditional south route for storms of this type in the Midwest. This was the destructive tornado with the reported three tails.

A second tornado came about 10 p.m. that same evening and created even more destruction over a wider area of south central Minnesota and north central Iowa.

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Mrs. G. M. Reistad, operator of the telephone exchange at Manchester, told a Tribune reporter:

&uot;The (first) tornado suddenly came out the northwest. A number of people in our village witnessed it, including myself. It was a dark whirling cloud. At the end were three swirling forked funnels. As it did its damage in the village I watched it go south towards Albert Lea. All around the tails there were light and green spaces. I was so excited because of the damage done in Hartland that I didn’t pay any attention as I otherwise would. In fact it tore out all the cables in my telephone office and put everything out of commission. No hail accompanied this storm.&uot;

One of the tornado tails struck the Norwegian Synod Lutheran Church in Hartland and completely destroyed the brick building. The three tornado tails also damaged several homes and business firms, a place called the &uot;Corner Store,&uot; the Standard Lumber Co., and many farm buildings in the Hartland area.

A heavy rainstorm which followed the first tornado, plus the second tornado, just added to the damages.

There happened to be a church social taking place in Hartland that same evening. However, the first tornado didn’t damage this second church at all. In fact, there were no personal injuries reported in the Hartland area as a result of the two evening tornadoes.

(What was then called the Synod Church was quickly rebuilt on the same foundation and dedicated on Dec. 6, 1931. Today, it’s known as the Hartland Evangelical Lutheran Church.)

Crop and tree damages were extensive over a wide area from the heavy rainfall, windstorms, and the two tornadoes which touched down in several locations. Reports collected by the Tribune showed two inches of rain in Albert Lea, three inches in Freeborn, four inches in Owatonna, and nearly five inches of rainfall in Austin.

The rainfall and street flooding in Owatonna and Austin resulted in the creosote wooden blocks then being used for paving just floating away. Also, three to four feet of water at several places on the highway between Austin and Owatonna stranded many vehicles and disrupted traffic for a few days.

The second tornado system caused extensive damages in and around Forest City, Iowa, That city’s electric light plant was taken out of operation and there wasn’t any power for a few days. This same storm also caused the death of a man near Hayfield, Iowa, seven miles south of Forest City. He was the storm system’s only casualty in this region.

On the morning of June 20, 1931, the newspapers in other cities were receiving reports that Albert Lea &uot;was entirely wiped out by the storm and that 37 had been killed outright while scores had been injured.&uot; It took several hours and many telephone calls to correct these false reports. In reality, there were some tree and crop damages, several farm buildings destroyed, and disruptions of electrical power for several days. The only casualty from the storm in Albert Lea was a pet dog that was electrocuted by a live power line laying on the ground.

The oddest incident during this storm system came when a meteor came to earth on a street in Austin. Despite the intense rainfall right at that time, the five-inch meteor continued to burn with a redish-purple hue for about 15 minutes, according to several witnesses.

What was left of this meteor, mostly ashes, was later collected and sent to the University of Minnesota for analysis.