Charles City tornado: 50 years later

The country’s midsection saw a tornado outbreak on  May 15th, 1968. Nearly forty tornadoes touched down in 10 states, 5 of which tracked through Iowa. 
Two of the five Iowa tornadoes that day were rated as F5. The Fujita scale is the old scale use to rank tornado wind speeds based on damage from light to incredible damage. The two Iowa tornadoes were the only two that day rated as F5, which is the highest level on the scale.

On that day, 72 lost their lives and more than 1,000 were injured during the outbreak. Here in Iowa, 18 people lost their lives… 13 due to the Charles City tornado.

The tornado tracked over 60 miles through multiple counties that afternoon. Right around 3:45pm, the tornado plowed through downtown Charles City. In addition to the deaths it caused, over 400 people were injured as a result. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and more than 1,000 families were affected in Charles City alone. The tornado tracked through four eastern Iowa counties during its life span: Franklin, Butler, Floyd, Chickasaw and Howard counties.

The second F5 tornado that day was in Fayette County. Downtown Oelwein and Maynard took a direct hit. Nearly 1,000 families were affected by the damage from this tornado, over 100 people were injured and unfortunately five people died. The total damage from F5 tornadoes in Iowa that day surpassed 50 million dollars. 

Another F5 tornado would not track into Iowa until 1976 in Boone and Story counties. In 2006, the Enhanced Fujita scale for tornadoes went into effect. In May 2008, an EF5 tracked through Butler and Black Hawk counties eastern Iowa.

For more information, visit the National Weather Service’s page on May 15, 1968 here.
You can find more on Iowa’s F5/EF5 tornadoes here.



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