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Fridley Tornado, 1965

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Aerial view of Fridley tornado damage

Aerial view of Fridley tornado damage in a two-block area, May 8, 1965. Minneapolis Star photograph by Arthur Hager. Minneapolis Star Tribune negatives collection (box 251), Minnesota Historical Society.

On the night of May 6, 1965, two F4 tornadoes cut through the northwest Twin Cities metro area. Known collectively as the Fridley tornado, these twisters were the worst cyclonic disaster to hit the Twin Cities to date.

On the evening of May 6, 1965, Twin Cities residents knew that there was going to be a storm. They just didn’t know how devastating it would turn out to be. When Fridley residents saw the sky turning dark green and spotted baseball-sized hail raining down around 7:00 pm, they called their kids inside. Eyewitness accounts describe the air smelling of sulfur. Many who were children at the time later remembered putting large pieces of hail in their refrigerators.

At 7:06 pm, the first tornado touched down in southwestern Fridley. Over the next fifteen minutes, it cut a 6.8-mile path to the northeast and dissipated in Blaine. This tornado was an F4 classification—the second-most powerful category of storm on the Fujita scale. The most common shared experience that people later remembered was hearing the deafening, train-like noise that accompanied the tornadoes.

By the end of the storm, there were three fatalities and 175 injuries. People emerged from their destroyed homes and helped others who were trapped in rubble or injured. However, they did not have much time to do so before a second tornado appeared.

This second tornado touched down in Golden Valley at 8:14 pm. It travelled for 17.3 miles from there through Fridley and Mounds View before dissipating west of Centerville at 9:02 pm. The second tornado was also an F4 storm; this time, there were six fatalities and 158 injuries. Although many homes were mostly destroyed, that night people gathered together with their neighbors and slept in basements and cars that were still intact.

In total, the damage caused by the two tornadoes that passed through Fridley was $14.5 million dollars. Approximately 1,100 homes and businesses were damaged. 425 were destroyed. Most of Fridley Elementary School and Fridley Junior High was destroyed; students finished the three weeks remaining in the school year in Northfield. World War II veterans likened the state of their town to that of an artillery-shelled battlefield. The unidentified driver of a white van, masquerading as a Red Cross volunteer, rode around and stole appliances. The looting was stopped when the National Guard was stationed in Fridley on May 7.

The next weeks saw the community come together to clean up damaged properties and house and feed people. The sight and sound of chainsaws cutting up fallen trees were common during the summer that followed.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale, and Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag came to Fridley soon after the disaster. Local residents appreciated Rolvaag's visit, but some criticized Humphrey and Mondale for their relatively late arrival. Humphrey and Mondale, they contended, had come to town only to take pictures and present themselves favorably for the news. One Fridleyite later referred to the two politicians as “the vultures” for failing to do enough to help people impacted by the storm. This was in stark contrast to reaction to Governor Rolvaag and the Canadian volunteer workers, who helped clean up the destruction. As much as the tornadoes caused destruction, they also inspired a strong sense of community among local residents.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Hughes, Gordon, Ronald Hughes, and R. C. Jefferson. Minnetonka Tornado Story. Excelsior, MN: Tonka Print Company, 1965.

Johnson, Laurie Richardson. A Neighborhood Remembers...The 1965 Fridley Tornado: A Collection of Stories and Memories from Rice Creek Terrace: 30th Anniversary Reunion, May 6, 1995, Fridley, Minnesota. Fridley, MN: L. R. Johnson, 1995.

National Weather Service. Summary of May 6, 1965, Twin Cities Tornadoes.
https://www.weather.gov/mpx/19650506_Twin_Cities_Tornadoes

Taylor, Allen. The Night the Sirens Blew: A Historical Account of the May 6, 1965 Twin Cities Tornadoes. Coon Rapids, MN: Tornado Press, 2008.

——— . Hidden Revealed: A Sequel Account of the May 6, 1965 Tornado Outbreak. Coon Rapids, MN: Allen Taylor, 2013.

Related Images

Aerial view of Fridley tornado damage
Aerial view of Fridley tornado damage
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hutfles after the Fridley tornado
Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hutfles after the Fridley tornado
Front page of the <em>Minneapolis Tribune</em>, May 7, 1965
Front page of the <em>Minneapolis Tribune</em>, May 7, 1965
Gerald Eich at 7324 Oakley Street, Fridley
Gerald Eich at 7324 Oakley Street, Fridley
Car damaged by Fridley tornado
Car damaged by Fridley tornado
Demolition volunteers after Fridley tornado
Demolition volunteers after Fridley tornado
Aid drive for Fridley tornado victims
Aid drive for Fridley tornado victims
Twin Drive-In Theater after the Fridley tornado
Twin Drive-In Theater after the Fridley tornado
Aerial view of the Midland Co-operative after the Fridley tornado
Aerial view of the Midland Co-operative after the Fridley tornado
Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag flying over Fridley tornado wreckage
Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag flying over Fridley tornado wreckage

Turning Point

On May 6, 1965, at 7:06 pm, a tornado touches down in southwestern Fridley.

Chronology

May 6, 1965

The 5:00 evening weather report warns of a severe storm.

May 6, 1965

The first tornado touches down in Fridley at 7:06 pm and travels to Blaine before dissipating at 7:21 pm.

May 6, 1965

The second tornado touches down in Golden Valley at 8:14 pm and travels through Fridley and Mounds View before dissipating west of Centerville at 9:02 pm.

May 7, 1965

The National Guard is called in to protect residents and prevent looting. Governor Karl Rolvaag visits the area to assess the damage.

May 9, 1965

Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Walter Mondale arrive from Washington, DC, to visit the disaster.