Anoka County history: Anniversary of 1965 Fridley tornado

My first experience with a tornado was in Montana.

We lived adjacent to the Yellowstone River and one evening, my mother was making dinner, my sister was in her high chair, and I was sitting at the dining table playing with my doll next to a large window.

I was watching the approaching storm clouds and asked, “Mom, what’s that funny looking cloud?”

My mother reacted quickly, wrenching my sister out of her chair, shoving my siblings and me into another room, opposite the tornado and covered us with a mattress.

Within seconds, I heard glass breaking and the splintering of wood.

And, yes, it did sound like the engine of a freight train.

I remember being frightened yet fascinated with what was happening.

Afterwards, we walked out of the room to a gaping roof and glass everywhere.

I remember going over to the spot where I had been sitting only moments before.

The chair that I was sitting on was nothing but splinters of wood. My doll was impaled with shards of glass from the window.

This tornado was categorized as F2 by the National Weather Service.

I often think; if I hadn’t asked what that funny cloud was… To this day, tornadoes fascinate me and I watch the sky warily.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS) Twin Cities, historical weather events, the worst tornado outbreak in Twin Cities history occurred in May 1965, with a recorded seven tornadoes.

Thirteen people were killed and 683 injured.

Many more would have been killed had it not been for the warnings of the U.S. Weather Bureau, local officials, and local radio and television stations.

It was also the first time in Twin Cities history that civil defense sirens were used for severe weather.

Of these seven tornadoes, two ravaged the city of Fridley within one hour.

Tornado No. 5 touched down at 7:06 p.m. in the southwestern corner of the city. It was on the ground for seven miles, reached F4 intensity, killed three people and injured 175.

Tornado No. 6 touched down at 8:14 p.m. in Golden Valley, moved across north Minneapolis and into Fridley, then Mounds View, finally dissipating just west of Centerville.

This also was rated an F4, killed six people and injured 158, and was on the ground for 18 miles.

According to, “Damage was in excess of $50 million.”

One out of every four homes in the city was destroyed or damaged.

U.S. Weather Bureau Assistant Joseph Strub Jr. later surveyed the damage and photographed the destruction.

Some time ago, these were discovered in a box at the National Weather Service and slides from were assembled.

Notes written by Mr. Strub accompanied the photos.

There are many personal accounts of that evening.

Allen Taylor’s book, about the May 6, 1965 tornadoes, “The Night the Sirens Blew,” was part of the presentation at the Fridley History Center last year, as it marked the 46th anniversary of the tornadoes.

Did you, your parents or grandparents live in Fridley in 1965?

Please share you stories with your historical societies.

The Fridley History Center holds “Fridley History Conversations” seven times a year.

Each one is videotaped for its archives.

The Anoka County Historical Society has an active oral history program and would love to record your stories about the Fridley tornado.

Participate in your local history!

Editor’s note: Leslie Plummer is a volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society.


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