Tornadoes are often viewed as the most damaging summer storm. However, the severe thunderstorm that produces the tornado frequently contains other severe weather elements such as torrential rains, hail, lightning and straight line winds. Unlike floods, none of these elements is confined to any particular local geographic area within the county. No community is without risk; any place in the county is considered to have an equal chance of experiencing a tornado or any other of these severe weather elements.
Damage due to tornadoes can range from minor to major depending on the strength of the tornado and where it strikes. A tornado that occurs in a rural area could cause crop damage and might damage some farm buildings and injure livestock but the damage would typically be less than in built up areas. Several such tornadoes have occurred in Benton County during the past 30 years. No tornado during this period of time has affected any of the cities or urbanized portion of the county. The path of Minnesota tornadoes is typically quite narrow, most less than a quarter of a mile and not very long. Consequently, the total area affected by a tornado is not large. However, should a tornado of moderate strength strike a city, damage could be extensive and risk to human life and property high.
Other violent summer storms are also not confined to any particular geographic area in the county and may occur and inflict damage anywhere they occur. The greatest risk for most people and property is usually confined to urban areas due to the higher density of people and buildings there. However, some storm events, such as hail and straight line winds can cause significant crop damage and damage to farm buildings. Since agricultural use makes up a greater share of the county’s land area than urban areas agricultural areas are somewhat more likely to experience hail storms than urban areas.
Every year in the United States, summer storms kill people. Many are killed by flying debris from homes and other structures. Larger impacts on people would be in the largest municipalities because of higher population densities.
Electric and other public infrastructure could be directly impacted throughout the entire county by severe storms. Specifically, power lines could be knocked down, resulting in loss of electricity for entire areas of the county. Electricity is very important to the community. It operates businesses, homes and other industrial buildings throughout the county. Other major infrastructure facilities such as the waste treatment plant, water plant, roads and bridges could also be damaged by tornadoes. Tornadoes and windstorms can often scatter knocked down trees and other debris over main roads, limiting travel of emergency vehicles.
The county and its cities can mitigate some of the impacts of these deadly storms through strict building code enforcement, proper land use regulations, emergency shelters and improved early warning systems.