Dave Dahl was 10 years old in 1965 when a series of six tornadoes ripped through the metro.
Huddled in the hallway of his Circle Pines home – which didn’t have a basement – with his family, the young Dahl feared for the worst.
“I thought I was going to die,” Dahl said. “But it made me want to figure these things out, what makes tornadoes what they are.”
From there, Dahl started reading every book he could find on tornadoes and severe weather. After studying math and physics at the University of Minnesota, he transferred to Florida State University to earn a degree in meteorology, as no Minnesota schools offered it at the time.
Dahl started working for KSTP in 1977, when he was 23, and retired last month as the station’s chief meteorologist. Looking back over the past 43 years, we asked Dahl to share his top five most memorable weather events. Here’s what he had to say.
State Fair flood of 1977
“I was hired in July 1977,” Dahl said, “and we were the only station at the time with a weather radar.”
A month into his job, he was still learning the radar when a major storm hit and 7 to 10 inches of rain flooded the State Fairgrounds. When the rain started, it began showing up as white specks on the radar.
“I remember looking at the radar that night and the screen went black,” he said. “The rain was so intense, the screen was black for at least an hour. We thought the radar had (broken).”
Har Mar Mall tornado of 1981
Fast forward four years and KSTP had just installed the more sophisticated Doppler radar, which could help predict tornadoes. But when a tornado developed in South Minneapolis, the staff had only been using the new radar for two weeks.
“It was a Sunday in June, around the time a lot of people were having graduation parties,” Dahl said. Once the twister emerged, Dahl attempted to chase it. He never did catch it – he said he was about 10 minutes behind it – but the storm’s damage made an impact on Dahl.
“The tornado demolished the Har Mar Mall,” he said. “All of the windows were blown out at the Target across the street. Cars were piled on top of each other against the fence of the parking lot. I’ll never forget those images.”
Super storm of 1987
On July 23, 1987, a line of thunderstorms producing tornadoes dumped a record 10 inches of rain in six hours, causing the largest flash flood ever in the Twin Cities.
That evening, the power went out in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. At that point, most of the KSTP staff had gone home and were unable to return to the station due to the downpour. Dahl was one of the few people still on site.
“The building didn’t have any power other than our backup generators,” he said. “I was the only one on the floor, so I turned on the camera and started talking for three and a half hours straight. I didn’t even know if anyone could see or hear me.”
Halloween blizzard of 1991
On the last day of October 1991, a storm that had started brewing in Louisiana was making its way north. That evening, Dahl’s forecast called for 2 to 4 inches of snow.
“By midnight, we had 8 inches,” Dahl said. “I had a heck of a time getting back into work the next day, when it had hit 16 inches.”
After three more days, the snow total hit 28.4 inches.
“That was the largest snowfall in the state’s history,” Dahl said. “And it was a very unique storm. Fifteen miles to the east, it was just freezing rain. Western Wisconsin didn’t get the snow.”
North Minneapolis tornado of 2011
On May 22, 2011, an EF1 tornado with winds between 86 and 110 miles per hour tore its way through Minneapolis, ripping mature trees from the ground. By this point, KSTP had a helicopter and Dahl watched as it followed the tornado’s path of destruction.
“I watched it move northward, scouring out a path of a couple miles,” Dahl said. “I was watching the damage while it was happening. It was just unbelievable from that perspective and I’ll never forget it.”
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