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Tornado strikes down in Northfield, Rice County

St. Olaf students experienced an unexpected disruption to their schedules when tornado sirens blared across campus at 6:22 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20.

The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for Rice County that evening, leading to emergency alerts popping up on students’ devices and the funneling of students into designated storm shelters across campus. Wind and rain soon buffeted the campus, forming massive puddles and knocking down several trees. Students packed the first floor of Rolvaag Library and the nearby tunnels, crowding the designated storm shelter areas for Buntrock Commons.

The College managed to avoid much of the harrowing damage seen elsewhere across southern Minnesota. According to Assistant Director of Facilities Jim Fisher, the storm only caused minimal damage on campus.

“We lost a basswood on the library steps, a red oak on the avenue and a small ornamental cherry over by baseball, and other than that we just had minor wind damage,” Fisher said.

Elsewhere, however, the storm wreaked havoc. According to the National Weather Service, ten confirmed tornadoes touched down in southern Minnesota, one near Medford and one near Faribault. In Faribault, the storm flipped planes and caused significant damage at the Faribault Municipal Airport.

Across Rice County, the storm caused extensive damage, even destroying Red Barn Farm, a popular pizza place and wedding venue. According to Harry Skalski ’20, whose family owns a farm on the outskirts of Northfield, the storm caused significant damage to rural homes and farmland.

“You can pretty much see a line where major damage was done,” Skalski said. “One house that I saw, their garage was completely taken down, was just in a pile. The Petersons’ farm, out a mile and a half from ours, they had a silo tipped over and multiple other silos in shreds.”

His family’s farm sustained considerable damage as well, with a tree falling on their porch, several doors and windows broken and nearly half of their trees irreparably damaged.

The tornado warning for Rice County lifted at 7:30 p.m. shortly after the wind and rain that pummelled St. Olaf’s campus eased as well, allowing students to return to their regular weekday affairs.