Timeline of Thursday's stormsby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Up to 35 tornadoes were reported across Minnesota on Thursday, and officials from the National Weather Service were trying to determine how many of them were really tornadoes. A more accurate number will likely be known after this weekend, but here's a summary of what happened when.
3:30 p.m.: Storms start to heat up
The storms begin quietly but rotation starts forming in an area from Alexandria to Fergus Falls. Conditions are ripe for a tornado.
3:45 p.m.: First tornado touchdown
The first tornado of the day touches down near Leaf Valley just north of Alexandria.
5 p.m.: Tornadoes enter Wadena County
Wadena County and the city of Wadena are also hit early on. In the city, more than 200 homes are damaged and destroyed, the community center and community pool are destroyed and the high school is heavily damaged.
"The clouds were starting to swirl and I could see debris in the air, I don't know how many hundred feet -- it was just up there. Then I heard, I thought there was a train coming, that WHOOSH noise ... then you could just see stuff flying." -- Dave Jetenberg, owner of Westside Sports in Wadena
Shortly after 5 p.m.: Tornadoes pop up everywhere
Storms start forming in a straight line from Wadena south to the Iowa border through Litchfield, New Ulm, St. James and Fairmont. Storms, some tornadoes, start moving northeast.
5:10 p.m.: More tornadoes and warnings
A tornado near Elmore on the Iowa border is the first reported in southern Minnesota. Warnings fly out in Sherburne, Wright and McLeod counties as storms head toward the Twin Cities.
6 p.m.: Tornado reported in Buffalo
A tornado is reported in Buffalo in central Minnesota. The National Weather Service sees activity picking up in southern and northwestern Minnesota.
"Six to 7 p.m. was really an active hour. That really was something, looking back." -- National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Friedlein
6:20 p.m.: Gas station hit in Mentor
A Cenex gas station in Mentor is hit. We later learn that the owner was killed. He wasn't even supposed to be there -- it was his 58th birthday, his daughter tells the Star Tribune.
7 p.m.: Storms head toward Albert Lea
The storms approach Albert Lea shortly after 7 p.m. A tornado destroys a mobile home west of Albert Lea, killing a woman. A tornado also reportedly hits Willowbrook Mall in Albert Lea.
"I looked outside my bedroom window, out to the left of my house and I could see the tornado starting to form again. ... How we did not get our whole neighborhood flattened by that thing is beyond me." -- Kassy Grousky of Albert Lea
8 p.m.: Storms continue in southern Minnesota
Flash flooding is reported in southern Minnesota, and downed trees and power lines make traveling treacherous. Roads are closed and officials in Freeborn County advise no travel.
Shortly after 8 p.m.: Storms graze Twin Cities
The Twin Cities area fears the worst, but the storms only graze the metro area. The National Weather Service says a cold front just happened to weaken in the right spot, causing the storm to split and veer off like the letter V around the Twin Cities.
8:40 p.m.: Another tornado hits near Interstate 35
The last tornado of the night is reported near Rush City along Interstate 35.
"This is our prime time for tornadoes, if you had to pick a stretch. Again, this was a significant outbreak, but this is our prime time and it just had been really quiet up to this point so far this year." -- Friedlein, the National Weather Service meteorologist
10 p.m.: More wind damage
The day ends with reports of heavy winds and damage across southeastern Minnesota, including 61 mph winds in Winona and torn-off roofs in Rochester.