Looking back at memorable & historic weather events through the decades

Published: Jul. 12, 2023 at 3:11 PM CDT
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – We continue our celebration of 70 years of KTTC with a look back at some memorable and historic weather events that have left their mark on the minds and landscape in our area.

Rochester experienced its worst natural disaster in nearly 100 years in 1978 when massive flooding took place overnight between July 5 and 6.

A large band of locally heavy rain moved from Dodge County toward Winona County in the afternoon, dumping 6″ to 7″ of rainfall.

The official total was 6.74″ at the Rochester International Airport.

“It was very dramatic. It was the worst flood we’ve ever had in the history of the city of Rochester.”

The South Fork of the Zumbro River and its tributaries swelled quickly. A quarter of the city flooded, and most of those areas were inundated with six feet of fast-moving flood water.

“I had went to work the morning after the rain. There was no electricity, so we didn’t have to work. When we came out behind AMPI and turned north onto 3rd avenue, the waves about three blocks down, I bet you were about six foot swells.”

The devastating flood prompted the construction of a $92 million flood control project by the Army Corps of Engineers that was completed in 1995.

Another devastating flood event happened in southeastern Minnesota almost 30 years later.

“Be ready to evacuate, be ready to get yourself safe.”

Torrential rain developed along a stalled front in the area the weekend of August 18 and 19 in 2007. A stationary band of very heavy rainfall produced rainfall rates of 1″ to 2″ per hour.

“With that much rain, nothing is going to stop it.”

The incredible deluge of non-stop rainfall led to massive, widespread flooding, mudslides, and road closures. Seven people were killed.

The hardest hit town was Rushford where mudslides and intense urban flooding damaged hundreds of homes and businesses. The overall cost of repairs that took several months was $200 million.

“We’ve got three, four houses in town where the basements caved in on them to where I’m sure they are going to be condemned. What do you need right now? Power and water. Everyone needs power and water.”

A new state record was set for 24-hour rainfall in Hokah with 15.10″ reported.

The Halloween of 1991 is not one many people will forget in their lifetime. Between October 31 and November 2, the blizzard and ice storm brought 3″ to 10″ of snowfall and 2″ to 3″ of ice across southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa.

“Everything had ice on it, we had to bang the ice off to work on anything.”

Tens of thousands of homes were left without power as many power lines and poles snapped under the weight of ice and snow.

“Very eerie to hear the crackling of the branches falling.”

Winds gusted up to 60 mph created blizzard conditions and brought the region to a stand-still for several days.

Another memorable snow event happened between May 1 and 3 of 2013. A potent spring storm system brought an unwelcomed amount of heavy snowfall to the southeast Minnesota very late in the season.

“I’ve lived in Minnesota now since 1957 and I’ve seen, like everyone, a few May sprinkles, but has anybody a live seen a storm like this?”

Temperatures plummeted from the 70s and 80s to the only 40s behind a passing cold front. With ample cold air, our area saw wet and very heavy snow with snowfall rates of 1″ to 2″ per hours at times.

“It was raining in Decorah and we got about 10 miles out of Decorah and it was just miserable.”

Despite the warm grounds, travel was difficult and dangerous as roads and sidewalks became snow covered and slick. KTTC received 13″ of snow during that event and Rochester set a new record snowfall amount for May 2 with 14″.

In December we’re normally tracking snowfall but December 15, 2021, was a completely different story.

“December is not likely when we should be seeing for this kind of weather in Minnesota. It’s certainly unlike any tornado experience I’ve ever had for surveying.”

December 15, 2021, is a night many of us will never forget.

We had an extremely strong derecho that moved across the Upper Midwest, and we had over 30 confirmed tornados across southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa.

A lot of the tornados were either EF0s or EF1s, but we did have several different EF2s, including one in Freeborn County right near Heartland.

“We have no injuries. We’ve got significant damage at residences and farm places.”

Now there’s a lot of stats to go along with this derecho that impacted us just a couple of years ago.

Nationally, this was the first December derecho ever recorded in the history of the united States.

Here in the Midwest we had 564 severe wind reports. That means we’re looking at 64 reports of 75 mph plus winds: that’s the most ever. In Iowa in 2020, we had 53 reports of winds at 75 mph.

We have 20 plus tornadoes, that’s the fourth largest outbreak. And again, this happened in December.

Now locally, this was the largest tornado outbreak on record. Locally we had 18 reports of 70 mph winds, we had 8 reports of 80 mph winds, and Rochester registered it’s second highest wind gust at 77 mph.”

“I really wasn’t expecting it this time of year, it doesn’t seem right.”

“This is a really good community, Rudd’s awesome. As small as we are, there’s actually a lot of people that came out from all over the area, all the surrounding communities came out and helped us out.”

Now, December 15 is a night that many of us won’t forget, but some of us won’t forget a night just four months later.

“So we do have this confirmed now from the National Weather Service and we can see it on our live footage here. We can see the tornado making it down to the ground, we can see the debris here. This is not what we want to see here tonight.”

“Right near Stacyville. Yep. Okay. We’re staying with this because if we see the rotation, they see the rotation.”

“Our most recent tornado outbreak was back on April 12, 2022 with 11 tornadoes confirmed across the KTTC area that’s in southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa. We had several different EF1 tornados confirmed near Spring Valley, into Riceville, and just south of Mason City. But the main tornado with this outbreak was in Taopi with an EF2 tornado with estimated wind speeds closing in on 130 to 132 mph.”

“I wish we could have watched for just 10 more minutes. We thought everything was west of us so we went to bed. The next thing we know, the bed’s shaking and we’re trying to put clothes on, come downstairs and we come to realize the whole side of the house is just gone.”

“It’s a miracle that everyone lived through this. If I had stayed in my home then I wouldn’t be here.”

The goal of the First Alert Weather team here at KTTC is to continue to provide this type of weather coverage for years to come.