'It came out of nowhere:' weak tornado surprises Windom residents

Kari Byam storm photo
A tree collapses on a vintage collector van near Kari Byam's residence on 15th Street and Third Avenue. (Submitted by Kim Byam)

WINDOM — Although weak and short-lived, Saturday's confirmed tornado in Windom came as a surprise to residents.

According to Todd Heitkamp, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D., the tornado that hit just after 6 p.m. Saturday registered as an EF-0, which is the weakest on the enhanced fujita scale. An EF-0 has wind speeds between 65 and 85 miles per hour.

According to the Cottonwood County Emergency Manager Paul Johnson, the tornado’s path was roughly 100 feet wide.

Although weak and short-lived, Heitkamp said that doesn’t minimize the damage that was caused.

The tornado’s path reportedly began behind a home on the corner of River Road and 13th Street, where it overturned a camper. It continued through the Cottonwood County Fairgrounds, Winfair Elementary and along 15th Street.


Saturday's tornado in Windom flipped over this camper. (Cottonwood County Emergency Management)

While Johnson said his office did not received reports of uninhabitable home damage, some buildings at the fairgrounds did receive damage.

According to Johnson, damage was caused to the hog barn, Oleson Pavilion and the children’s barn. An inspector was scheduled to look over the buildings to determine if they were safe to use this week for the fair.

cottonwood county fair roof
The roof of this Cottonwood County Fairground building received damage from Saturday's tornado in Windom. The fair is scheduled to continue as planned this week. (Cottonwood County Emergency Management)

A board member reported Monday on social media that the Cottonwood County Fair will continue as scheduled.

The corn crib collection site of aluminum cans for Riverfest fireworks’ fund was blown over, as was a metal shed.


“In the grand scheme of things it was fairly minor,” Johnson said. “Yeah, some people need to clean up, but nobody got hurt and that’s the important thing.”

Residents report surprise

Daniel Knigge had been outside Saturday afternoon with a couple of guys working on a porch on his 13th Street home. He described the air beginning to feel sticky and raining off and on, but hadn’t heard about any tornado watch or warning on his phone.

Knigge said the air immediately surrounding him became dead still, but looking in the distance to the Des Moines River he could see trees whipping in the wind.

“All of a sudden I thought, ‘Oh no. We need to get to the basement,’” Knigge said. “It just blew up out of nowhere.”

Knigge caught the tornado on video around 6:07 p.m. before the tornado sirens went off in Windom.

“By that time it had already gone by Cottonwood Lake and touched down over there,” he said.

Alec Nolte and his family were sitting outside Saturday evening at their home along Cottonwood Lake when they quickly moved inside.


“It came out of nowhere,” he said.

The tornado reportedly ripped through the shoreline, uprooting a tree and flipping over a dock.

Tami Farmer storm photo
Windom resident Tami Farmer captures this shot of Saturday's tornado on Cottonwood Lake from her home on the north end of the lake. (Submitted by Tami Farmer)

Kari Byam was also home when the tornado struck her home along Third Avenue and 15th Street.

Byam, along with her husband, Michael, and their children, Dodge and Morgan, noticed clouds moving in the opposite director of their neighbors' flag. Leaves began to float in the air and they headed for the basement, and she’s thankful they did.

“Our boy had a hard time shutting the door so we could get to the basement,” she said. “We heard stuff hit the house on our way down.”

“We had no warning of it coming,” she added. “No sirens and no alerts went off on our phones. The sirens went off after when we were outside picking things up. The sirens are not even loud.”

The tornado destroyed a shed and caused significant damage to a vintage collector van on Byam’s property. Damage to a screen door, interior door, roof and broken window also resulted from the tornado.

“Thank goodness it was a small tornado,” Byam said. “This town got lucky.”

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