Tornado devastates Woodlawn Cemetery


A Wednesday morning tornado touched down at Woodlawn and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.
A Wednesday morning tornado touched down at Woodlawn and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

by Sarah Squires

It only took one minute. From 6:23 a.m. to 6:24 a.m. on Wednesday, September 11, an 80-yard-wide F1 tornado swept through Woodlawn Cemetery in Winona. It ripped dozens of 100-year-old trees from the ground and tossed them down hillsides, battering headstones and roadways, gouging craters into the bluffside final resting place for thousands of Winonans.

By Wednesday afternoon, crews had already hauled dozens of loads of wood from the cemetery, but it had barely put a dent into the work that will be needed for Woodlawn to be repaired and reopened. Insurance may cover the damage to headstones and to the roof of a shed that was harmed by the twister, but the lion’s share of the work needed will not — removal of mountains of wood from the dozens of trees that were uprooted or toppled and repairs to the grounds.

“We’re working hard to correct it, but it’s going to take time,” Woodlawn Superintendent Tim Leahy said of the work ahead. “It will change the landscape of the cemetery, unfortunately.”

According to Todd Shea, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, the F1 tornado reached peak winds of around 95 mph and touched down for approximately one minute early on Wednesday morning. It was approximately 0.2 miles in width.

Leahy said at first, cemetery staff thought the damage had possibly been done by strong winds, but quickly learned that the storm included a funnel cloud that touched down on the grounds, a rarity in the river valley.

As work is done to repair the damages, clear roadways and remove the trees from the site, Woodlawn will remain closed to the public. Leahy said that he understands family members are likely concerned about whether their headstones may have been damaged by the tornado, but asks for patience as crews continue to focus on the work ahead and make the cemetery safe for visitors again. Funeral services, in the meantime, will be evaluated and only held if it is deemed the burial site is safely accessible.

For now, those who would like to help Woodlawn recover from the destruction, estimated at more than $150,00, are urged to consider a donation to help with the costs of repairs. Donations may be mailed to Woodlawn Recovery Effort and mailed to Woodlawn Cemetery, 506 West Lake Boulevard, Winona, Minn., 55987, attn: Donations; or, visit


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