State’s earliest tornado on record hit Pihls Park

Published 10:01 am Friday, March 24, 2017

WELLS — A tornado that hit a southern Minnesota campground this month was the earliest twister on record in Minnesota, according to the National Weather Service.

The agency recently conducted a survey that confirmed a tornado that tore through the Pihls Park campground south of Wells touched down a few minutes after 5 p.m. on March 6.

The weather service initially said the record was set by a tornado the same day near Clark’s Grove, but that twister hit about 30 minutes after the tornado near Wells. A third tornado hit at almost the same time near Zimmerman in central Minnesota.

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The previous record was March 18, 1968.

“I called the National Weather Service and reported our damage because I was surprised that no one was talking about it,” said Mary Johnson, the Pihls Park caretaker. “I called the night before the big snow (March 12), and then he came down last week.”

The tornado traveled 11 miles (about 18 kilometers) northeast before landing at Pihls Park, where it took down 30 trees and damaged several RVs. Johnson said she’s just glad no one was hurt.

“If we have to have a tornado, I’m glad it was early and no one was here,” she said.

Pihls Park is on Rice Lake in Faribault County and has 30 camping spaces.

Johnson said it’ll cost tens of thousands of dollars to clean up the campground. She said several families keep their campers at the park year-round and suffered up to $200,000 in damages to their vacation homes.

— The Mankato Free Press contributed to this report.