Over 5.7 million people live in Minnesota. Many of these people have experienced natural disasters in the state firsthand or had to evacuate because of disasters. However, many Minnesota residents don’t realize just how many types of natural disasters can occur in the state.
This analysis covers what natural disasters occur in Minnesota, the worst natural disasters to hit the state since 2000, and what residents can do to prepare.
Is Minnesota At Risk of Natural Disasters?
Compared to the rest of the United States, Minnesota has a low risk of natural disasters. Excluding COVID, Minnesota has had 32 disaster declarations since 2000. Of these, 26 were declared major disasters.
Minnesota is also sometimes hit by natural disasters, which cause more than $1 billion in damages. Since 2000, at least 35 separate $1-billion events have affected Minnesota. Most of these were severe storms.
Worst Natural Disasters in Minnesota By Cost (Since 2000)
- 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: $39.3 billion
- 2022 Drought and Heat Wave: $22.2 billion
- Summer 2008 Flooding: $14 billion
- Spring-Fall 2013 Drought and Heat Wave: $13.4 billion
- August 2020 Severe Weather-Derecho: $12.7 billion
Worst Natural Disasters in Minnesota By Deaths (Since 2000)
- 2021 Drought and Heat Wave: 229 deaths
- May 2011 Tornado Outbreak: 177 deaths
- 2022 Drought and Heat Wave: 136 deaths
- 2012 Drought and Heat Wave: 123 deaths
- Spring-Fall 2013 Drought and Heat Wave: 53 deaths
*Cost and death tolls are for the entire disaster, including in other states affected.
Most Common Natural Disasters in Minnesota
1. Heavy Snowfall and Winter Storms
Minnesota ranks #11 in the country for the most snowfall and #5 for the most snowfall days yearly.
The upper part of Minnesota is subject to the Lake Effect and gets much more snow than the rest of the state. Duluth averages 86 inches of snowfall per year, and temperatures are below freezing for an average of 106 days per year.
Minnesota is one of the most at-risk states in the USA for blizzards. Blizzards can occur anywhere in Minnesota but most frequently in the western part of the state. Many counties in western Minnesota average at least one blizzard per year.
The winter storms can cause many problems, including business closures, road closures, burst pipes, and power outages. Heavy snowfall can also strain roofs and cause them to collapse, which is what happened to the roof of the Metrodome stadium in Minneapolis during a 2010 blizzard.
Despite having so much snowfall, Minnesota is not one of the most at-risk states for winter vehicle fatalities.
Minnesota Winter Weather Stats
- Average snowfall per year: 43″
- Snowfall days per year: 78 days
- Coldest recorded temperature: -60°F in Tower in 1996
- Record snowfall: 26″ in Wolf Ridge on January 7th, 1994
2. Freezing Rain
The climate of the Midwest makes it ideal for freezing rain. Minnesota doesn’t have freezing rain as frequently as states in the Northeast, but freeze events do occur. Some areas of Iowa can expect approximately 6-12 hours of freezing rain per year.
Freezing rain most frequently occurs during December and January, but fall and spring freeze events also occur. Icy road conditions from the rain make vehicle accidents and slip-and-fall injuries common. It’s also common for people to lose power during freezing rain events, meaning that thousands can be left without a way to heat their homes during the coldest months.
In the Midwest, Minnesota is the most at-risk state for wildfires. It has the highest average number of wildfires and acres burned in the region each year. Forests and farmland cover a large portion of the state. A combination of drought and windy conditions mean wildfires in Minnesota can be very large.
Since 2000, Minnesota has had to declare disaster due to wildfires twice. One of the disasters was in 2000 with the Carlos Edge Fire. The other event was in 2002 with the By Pass Fire.
Because of climate change, though, the risk of wildfires in Minnesota is growing. By 2050, an estimated 58% of all properties in the state will be at risk of wildfire.
Minnesota Wildfire Stats
- Acres burned in 2021: 69,405
- Number of fires in 2021: 2,065
- Average fires per year: 1,826
- Average acres burned per year: 61,488
- Number of properties currently at risk of wildfire: 1,472,206
4. Heat Waves
As with the rest of the country, Minnesota’s risk of heat days is increasing. Currently, Minnesota has almost no “dangerous” heat days per year. The National Weather Service defines these as days where the heat index is 103F or above. By 2050, the number of dangerous heat days in Minnesota is expected to increase to 15 days per year.
In addition to more dangerous heat days, Minnesota will also see more “Local Hot Days.” Local Hot Days are “Days at or above the 98th percentile temperature, or the temperature that an area could expect to see on the hottest 7 days of the year.” Essentially, Local Hot Days factor in what temperatures a local population is used to experiencing.
An increase in Local Hot Days is associated with health problems like strokes, and heat-related deaths are more likely to occur. Energy demands also increase from air conditioning use.
All parts of Minnesota are expected to have an increase in Local Hot Days, but Freeborn County is particularly at-risk. By 2053, Freeborn is expected to have 16 consecutive days with temperatures at or above 98.7℉.
Heat waves are often accompanied by drought. As an agricultural state, droughts can be particularly devastating for Minnesota and have a huge economic toll.
Tornadoes in Minnesota are not very common, but due do occur. The state averages 24 tornadoes per year. While the state has never had an F5 tornado in recent history, it has had eight F4 tornadoes since 2000 and many F3 tornadoes.
Since 2000, nine people in Minnesota have died from tornadoes, and over 200 were injured. Tornadoes also caused millions in property damage and crop damage.
Minnesota is not at high risk for flooding compared to the United States. However, floods do regularly occur in Minnesota. Floods often occur in spring when heavy rains and snowmelt cause rivers to swell and overflow. The eastern parts of Minnesota in the Mississippi River basin are particularly vulnerable to river flooding.
Heavy rainfalls can also cause flash floods in Minnesota. One of the worst flash flood events in Minnesota occurred in August 2007. Some areas received up to 17 inches of rain. The ground couldn’t absorb this much water, so flash floods occurred. The event caused more than $179 million in damages in the state, and 7 people died.
Minnesota Flood Stats
- 215,600 properties at substantial risk in 2020
- 322,300 properties at risk by 2050
- 219,100 properties at substantial risk by 2050
- 43,000 properties at almost certain risk by 2050
- 22,600 FEMA flood damage claims since 2000
Which Areas of Minnesota Are Most At-Risk to Flooding?
Floods can occur in all parts of Minnesota, but some areas of the state are particularly at-risk. Below are the areas of Minnesota with the greatest percentage of properties likely to experience flooding (based on 2020 calculations).
- East Grand Forks: 55%
- Winona: 49%
- Little Falls: 37%
- Champlin: 36%
- North Mankato: 36%
- Crookston: 31%
- Dayton: 29%
- Anoka: 28%
In addition to these areas, Minnesota has many major cities and towns where thousands of properties are at risk. This includes nearly 11,000 properties in Minneapolis, over 7,000 properties in St. Paul, and over 5,000 properties in Duluth. By 2050, an estimated 7.4% of all properties in the state will be at substantial risk of flooding.
Even though it is not located in “Hail Alley” – the part of the United States with frequent hail storms – Minnesota is at-risk for serious hail storms. With an average of 196 hail storms, Minnesota ranks #7 for the most hail events per year.
Some of these hail storms can be very destructive. One of the worst hail events to hit Minnesota occurred in 2021 in Goodhue. Some areas were hit by hail balls which were 2.5 inches in diameter. The event caused $3 million in property damage.