National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

During the late afternoon and early evening of May 15, 1968, five tornadoes (two F1s, one F2, and two F5s) occurred in Iowa. These tornadoes were part of the May 15-16, 1968 outbreak (39 tornadoes) which affected ten states (Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee). The tornadoes in Iowa caused 18 fatalities (13 in Charles City, 2 in Oelwein, and 2 in Maynard) and 619 injuries (450 in Charles City, 156 in Oelwein & Maynard, 12 in Elma, and 1 in Audubon).

On May 24, 1968, Iowa Governor Harold Hughes requested just over two million dollars ($2,044,000) in supplemental federal assistance to repair damage to public facilities resulting from the tornadoes in and near the communities of Charles City and Oelwein. On May 29, 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the state of Iowa as a disaster area.

A detailed description of each Iowa tornado on May 15, 1968 is listed below:

1) Charles City Tornado: (Franklin, Butler, Floyd, Chickasaw, Howard Counties):

The first tornado of the afternoon was first sighted passing over a farmstead northeast of Hansell around 4:10 PM CDT. The tornado moved through the eastern edge of Aredale where two tornadoes were seen simultaneously.  Farms in Aredale area were reported heavily damaged by the tornadoes.  Farms damaged by the tornadoes included Lawrence McKinney, Lloyd Bailey, Roger
Landers and Harry Brocka.

Everything except the house and one other building on the Bailey farm about a mile south of Aerdale was reported blown across the road into Alfred McWilliams field.  Windows in the house were broken, and boards and splinters were driven into the trees on the Bailey farm.

On the McKinney farm about a quarter mile east of Aredale, most of the buildings were destroyed — "twisted every which way".  A large tree fell on the house, and power lines were down.  Mrs. McKinney and her sister Miss Madonna Day were both treated for shock at their residence on the following day.

Debris from the Landers farm about five miles northeast Aredale was discovered half a mile away, and the outbuildings were flung about the farmyard.

The Brocka farm about 2 miles southwest of Aredale reported damaged buildings and uprooted trees.

The tornado was observed to lift briefly at Marble Rock and then a continuous tornado path and associated tornado sightings were reported from east of Marble Rock to Charles City.



The tornado grew larger and more intense as it approached Charles City, striking the city at approximately 4:50 PM CDT.  The huge tornado (approximately a half mile wide) passed directly through town from south to north.  The tornado destroyed, 372 homes and 58 businesses, 188 homes and 90 businesses sustained major damage, and 356 homes and 46 businesses sustained minor damage.  Eight churches, 3 schools were damaged or destroyed, the police station was heavily damaged, and 1,250 vehicles were destroyed.  About 60 percent of the city was damaged by the tornado.  Damage was estimated up to $30 million. 

Debris from the Charles City was found in LeRoy, MN (part of a Blooms Electric sign - nearly 35 miles to the north); St. Charles, MN (a check from the Floyd County Treasurer's office - approximately 75 miles away); and Winona, MN (a receipt from a Service Station - about 80 miles away).  A total of 1,565 families were affected by the tornado. Ironically, the tornado damaged all of the churches in town, but left the bars standing. Four hundred and fifty people were injured. Of these injured, 76 people required hospitalization. The following thirteen people were killed by the tornado in Charles City:

    1. Mrs. Ray (Sadie) Chambers
    2. Virval Dawson
    3. May Gault
    4. Marie Greenless
    5. Harry Hall
    6. John Kneisel
    7. Mrs. John (Minnie) Kneisel
    8. Mrs. LeLane (Florine) Leach
    9. Murray Loomer
    10. Arthur Jacobs
    11. August Mertin
    12. Robert Stotts
    13. Mrs. Charles (Lela) Wolff

Charles City Tornado Track

Charles City Tornado Track

Track of Tornado through Charles City

Track of the Tornado through
Charles City, IA


James Johnson, administrator of Floyd County hospital in Charles City, said 200 to 300 persons were treated at the hospital, which had a capacity of 89.  Only 39 of the hospital's beds were empty  when the tornado struck and Johnson said the 39 most seriously injured persons used them. 

Not more than 20 minutes after the tornado hit Charles City, looting became a problem.  It did not end until the Charles City authorities sealed off the downtown area.

The tornado continued to the northeast hitting Elma at 5:25 PM CDT, where it caused another $1.5 million in damage.  In Elma, 12 persons were injured and 3 hospitalized.  Within town in an area about four by six blocks on the west side, virtually every tree was
either stripped of branches or downed.  Many streets were blocked by the trees.  Scarcely a home or building in the area escaped damage.  An unidentified woman insisted she saw three funnels converging on the town.

The storm also inflicted heavy damage in an area about six miles in both directions southwest and northeast of Elma.  Farms especially hard hit in the area included: Mrs. Ludwina Zimetz, Charles McGee, Ed O'Brien, Earl Kelly, Larry Vovits, Don Fairchild, and Walter Fair.  Witnesses in the country said the storm was accompanied by heavy hail which added its own severe destruction.

From Elma the tornado turned to the north and dissipated south of Chester, 4 miles south of the Minnesota border. 

The tornado was on the ground for 65 miles, reaching a width of 400 yards.

2) Oelwein/Maynard Tornado (Fayette County):

At 4:57 PM CDT, another F5 tornado touched down one mile southwest of Oelwein. The warning sirens sounded for only 15 seconds before power failed.  The tornado moved in a northward direction up Oelwein's main business street (North and South Frederick) and a parallel street a block east (First Avenue Southeast).  It destroyed 68 homes.  Another 132 homes sustained major damage and 600 sustained less damage. Every business in the district suffered damage including 51 that were destroyed. Two churches, an elementary school, and the middle school were destroyed.  Some persons said that they saw more than one tornado.

This tornado moved north through the western part of Maynard.  About five square blocks were virtually leveled.  More than 25 houses and the new $120,000 Lutheran church were destroyed.

Farms in an area a mile wide and extending from Oelwein to Twin Bridges State Park north of Maynard were heavily damaged by the tornado.  Damage ranged from total destruction to minor.  The path of the tornado was easy to follow after it left Oelwein and traveled northeast until it hit Maynard and then turned almost straight north, traveled about five miles before lifting, near the park.

The farm homes of Raymond Lundry and Peter Greco, which are less than a quarter of a mile apart, were among the worst hit.  The two farms, lay about a mile south of Maynard, and were a complete loss.  Lundry lost 76 pigs, six head of cattle were killed and another six were injured. Greco lost seven heads of liveslock plus rabbits and chickens.

Other farms wiped out by the tornado included Herbert Malven and Art Andrew. In both cases, the house was the only building left standing. Farms receiving severe damage included Kenny Bancke, Louis Gosse, Alvin Teague, Harold Teague, W. L. Halstead, Lester Warnke, G. L. Hanson, Herman Peterman and Don Wilharm.  Among those less severly damaged were the farms of Ruben Blake, George Winkler, John Stolka, Harold Ehlers, Howard Gushing, Ervin Saddler, Donald Buxton, Deiter Erdelt, Lester Warnke, and Larry Lundry.  These losses ranged from one to seven buildings destroyed and included cattle which were injured or killed.  The farms of Ralph Gilmer, Bob Henniges, Harry Reay, Louis Burk and Delmer Sorgc also received heavy damage.  Only one person (Mrs. Lucille Taylor) on the farms had  injuries serious enough to require hospitalization.

This tornado affected 965 families. Of the 156 injuries, 34 were hospitalized. Loss estimates ranged upward to 21 million dollars. Most of which occurred in Oelwein. the following four people were killed by this tornado:

Oelwein Fatality:

  1. Grace Damon - She had went to a shelter and then realized that she had forgotten her purse.  She went up to retrieve it.  She was unable to get back to shelter before the tornado had hit her apartment building.  A chimney fell on her.  She called for help and she was rescued, but she died shortly later from internal bleeding and injuries.  She was 55 years old.
  2. Albert E. Heaton - He was 89 years old and died of a heart attack.

Manard Fatalities:

  1. Galena Kelly - She was 3 years old and the daughter of Borden and Geraldine Kelly
  2. Mrs. Louis Ponsor - She was 77 years old and died in a trailer. 
3) Jackson Junction Tornado: (Fayette County)

At 4:58 PM CDT, a brief F1 tornado touched down at Jackson Junction.

4) Audubon Tornado: (Audubon County) 
  At 5:45 PM CDT, a F2 tornado damaged two farmsteads in Audubon. This tornado injured one person.
5) Cresco Tornado: (Howard & Winneshiek)
  At 6:15 PM CDT, A concrete block garage and barns were destroyed. A home was also unroofed. This tornado tracked north-northeast. six miles