May 15th marks the 48th anniversary of what Iowans know as the “Charles City Tornado.” This tornado was part of a major outbreak across the Midwest between May 15th and 16th, 1968. In Iowa, the tornadoes caused 18 deaths and more than 600 injuries. (Read more about this event, picture included, from the National Weather Service in La Crosse, WI)
The morning of May 15th started off with several reports of 2.5″ to 3.0″ size hail (tennis ball and baseball size) across many locations in eastern Iowa. The atmosphere had time to recover, and by the afternoon several tornadoes struck the eastern part of the state; Two F5 tornadoes (winds 261+ mph) struck, along with two F1 tornadoes (73-112 mph), and one F2 (113-157 mph).
The first F5 tornado tracked through tracked from near Hansell in Butler Co., through Chickasaw, Floyd, Franklin and Hardin counties. The F5 tornado tracked right through the heart of Charles City in Floyd County. More than 350 homes and businesses were destroyed in the city. The tornado was on the ground for 65 miles in total, and destroyed about 2,000 homes total. In Charles City alone that afternoon, there were 15 deaths and 450 injuries.
Oelwein and Maynard also took a direct hit from a second F5 tornado that Wednesday afternoon. The tornado destroyed near 1,000 homes, and killed five people before falling apart near Randalia.
Below is the surface map from the morning of May 15th. You can see a low pressure system located in Nebraska, with a stationary boundary draped across the state of Iowa, and a cold front extending from Nebraska down through Mexico.
May 15, 1998 was also a violent day in Iowa for severe weather. A severe weather outbreak resulted in at least 43 of Iowa’s 99 counties, and produced 13 tornadoes. One of those tornadoes struck Washington, Iowa, packing winds 158 mph to 206 mph. While there were no deaths reported, 47 people were injured from that tornado.
This post was written by Kyle Kiel on May 15, 2016