Sauk Rapids, MN Tornado, Apr 1886

Sauk Rapids, Saint Cloud, and Rice Station, Minnesota, and vicinity, were visited on the afternoon of the 14th, shortly after 4:00 p.m., by one of the most destructive tornadoes that has ever been reported in the Northwest. When first seen it was in the shape of a long and exceedingly black, funnel-shaped cloud, surrounded on all sides by perfectly clear sky, the tube of the funnel having a spiral shape and touching the ground. The general course of the tornado was from the southwest towards the northeast. When it had advanced until it was over the towns the air was so dark that it was impossible to see more than five feet.

The description below of the tornado as it appeared at Saint Cloud is given by an eye witness:

The tornado must have formed rapidly, and just about over the lake, as it was there when first noticed. it was very black, and seemed to be constantly in motion. It was moving rapidly across the lake when first seen, was flat and oval in shape, with a sort of spiral at each of the extremities, one extending upward and the other downward. It was peculiar in appearance, and I watched it closely. After having passed across the lake it seemed to stop. The movement resembled that of a fan opening and closing, and it remained stationary for some seconds. Almost instantly the form changed. Instead of lying flat, it seemed to turn on end and the spirals that ran up from the other end formed a part of a big double spiral. It had a movement that was peculiar, as if there was a commotion within it. The course was rapid and as soon as the big spiral was formed it began moving at a terrific rate in a course that was somewhat zigzag. It dropped down to the ground, and I saw the entire work of ruin. The course of the tornado after crossing the river was rather sinuous, though hardly as much so as before. It swept across the country, and in five minutes from the time of reaching Sauk Rapids the work of destruction was done. There were two clouds at first that came together directly over the lake, and then turned on end and swept onward.

In the track of the tornado at Sauk Rapids, stood the Manitoba freight house and cars filled with freight. The tornado lifted the heavy cars from the tracks, and cast them in shapeless masses. The freight house was totally wrecked. Iron rails were torn from the track and twisted like wires; $3,000 worth of freight was whirled through the air and thrown into heaps and scattered by piecemeal over an area of a quarter of a mile. Fifteen freight cars were demolished. Operators in the telegraph office and employes[sic] at the freight depot saw the tornado coming and fled to the cellars and thus escaped. Not a single business house was left standing in the main street, and many dwelling were demolished. The court house was left a heap of ruins, and several of the county officers killed. The Union School House, two churches, the post-office, a flour mill, and a large machine shop were completely destroyed. A heavy iron truss-bridge across the Mississippi at Sauk Rapids was wrecked, and parts of it carried in the cloud a considerable distance before being dropped. Men, women, and children, as well as horses and cattle, were lifted into the air and dashed to the ground. The number of persons killed in the towns named above was at least fifty-five, and three times that number were injured. The bodies are described as presenting, in many cases, a blackened appearance, as if they had been scorched, while frequently the clothing was completely torn from them. Every description of this tornado speaks of it as being accompanied by a roaring and peculiar crackling sound, which became deafening as it approached, also that the black, oval-shaped cloud with a tube turning on the ground was seen by a numerous of persons, whose lives were saved by retreating to cellars and other underground apartments. The track of the tornado was about twenty miles long and twenty rods wide; immense damage was done to farm property, orchards, forests, and stock. During the passage of the tornado, and afterwards, rain fell in torrents.

National Weather Service, Monthly Weather Review, Apr 1886