It hardly feels like spring — what with a winter storm in the offing for the weekend — but the National Weather Service wants folks to think about tornadoes. Specifically, what to do if one forms.
Sirens will blare at 1:45 p.m. and at 6:45 p.m. Thursday as the weather service issues simulated tornado warnings as part of Severe Weather Awareness Week in Minnesota.
Twisters are likely far from most people’s minds this year as temperatures this spring have barely risen above 50 degrees. But Thursday’s drills are meant to “refresh, remind and educate everyone” about threats from severe weather and practice emergency plans should there be an outbreak, the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said.
Between 1950 and 2016, Minnesota has averaged 36 tornadoes a year, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Twisters during that time period have led to 1,982 injuries and 99 deaths. The last tornado-related fatality in Minnesota occurred in 2011, the DNR said.
Last year the state had 41 twisters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center.
April tornadoes are relatively rare, with just 1.2 reported on average, according DNR records. Nearly three-quarters of all tornadoes in Minnesota have occurred during the three months of May (15 percent), June (37 percent), and July (25 percent).
However, twisters can occur anytime, anywhere. Last year the state saw its earliest tornadoes ever on March 6 when three twisters touched down near Bricelyn in Faribault County, Zimmerman in Sherburne County and Clarks Grove in Freeborn County. The latest in any year occurred on Nov. 16, 1931, east of Maple Plain., the weather service said.
On Thursday, simulated tornado watches and warnings will be issued to test the statewide warning and communications systems.
1 p.m.: National Weather Service will issue a simulated tornado watch for Minnesota and Wisconsin.
1:45 p.m.: National Weather Service will issue a simulated tornado warning for Minnesota counties. Most cities and counties will activate outdoor warning siren systems.
2 p.m.: Simulated tornado warning will end.
6:45 p.m.: A second simulated tornado warning will be issued by the eight National Weather Service offices that serve Minnesota and Wisconsin. It will be issued as a test of family preparedness in the home and for second shift workers.
The immediate forecast does not include the spring and summertime hazard, but rather a significant winter storm expected to arrive Friday afternoon. Rain, snow, sleet and “all precipitation types” are likely with the storm that also is poised to deliver strong winds and blizzard conditions, the National Weather Service said.
Total snow accumulations of 8 to 15 inches are possible across central and west central Minnesota, with totals tapering off to 3 to 6 inches across south central Minnesota and west central Wisconsin, the weather service said.
A Winter Storm Watch is in effect from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening for most of the southern two-thirds of Minnesota, roughly south of a line from Fergus Falls to Brainerd to Hinckley. The southeastern part of Minnesota, including Rochester and Winona, is not in the watch area, but can expect rain, the weather service said.