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Iowa History Daily: May 15 - 1968 Charles City Tornado

Iowa History Daily: During the later afternoon on May 15, 1968, five massive tornadoes touched down in Iowa as a part of a wider 39 tornado outbreak across ten states. Two EF5/F5 tornadoes occurred during the storm, with one striking Charles City at 4:50 p.m. The tornado moved directly through the seat of Floyd County, destroying hundreds of homes, over a thousand vehicles, and over $30 million dollars in damage. In total, 18 Iowans (14 in Charles City, alone) lost their lives as the series of storms rolled across the state.

Stretching north to south from Arkansas to Minnesota and as far east as Tennessee, the large front stalled out over Iowa creating five separate tornadoes. A farmer sighted the first as it passed over a farmstead near Hansell at 4:10 p.m. before moving toward Aredale. Local citizens spotted two separate tornadoes in the Aredale area, and many farms in the vicinity experienced significant damage.

Moving rapidly northeast, the storm approached Charles City roughly half an hour later. The reportedly half-mile wide tornado ripped through town from south to north obliterating everything standing in the way.

Reports detail 372 homes and 58 businesses destroyed, as well as significant damage to hundreds more. Roughly 60% of the city saw significant damage. Residents north of the Iowa-Minnesota border in LeRoy found debris traced back to Charles City, and a Floyd County Treasurer’s Office check made its way to St. Charles, Minnesota, some seventy miles away.

At 4:57, further to the east another F5 twister touched down southwest of Oelwein. Warning sirens only sounded for 15 seconds before the town’s power failed, and residents scrambled for safety. The tornado moved from south to north through the main business district, destroying and damaging hundreds of homes and businesses in addition to the elementary and middle schools. Continuing north, the storm ripped through Maynard virtually destroying five square blocks including a brand new Lutheran Church.

In addition to the 14 Charles City casualties, four additional people lost their lives in Oelwein and Maynard. Hundreds more suffered serious injuries, and many more suffered from the experience of surviving one of the most deadly weather days in Iowa’s history. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar #IowaOTD


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