Today's date, May 15th, may not have a lot of meaning for most people. But here in Northeast Iowa, many residents remember that date, 52 years ago, as Black Wednesday.


It was May 15th of 1968, just before 5pm, that a massive tornado outbreak cleared a deadly swath in Oelwein, Maynard, and a separate storm system in Charles City.
The National Weather Service would later label the twisters "F-5" (the "EF" system would be established later).

In what seemed like an eternity, the citizens of Oelwein hunkered down in their basements. Some were caught off guard, as the weather service had not predicted the severe weather.

In a matter of minutes, the Oelwein tornado touched down just southwest of Oelwein, and plowed through the middle of town causing millions of dollars in damage. One person died from injuries she sustained when her home was leveled. 51 businesses were destroyed, along with 68 homes, 2 churches, an elementary school and a middle school building. The twister then headed northeast, toward Maynard, where it flattened the west side of town and killed 2 people.

Minutes before the Oelwein twister, another F-5 tornado struck Charles City, taking 13 lives, and destroying 372 homes and 58 businesses, plus 8 churches and 3 schools.

That same day, a total of 39 tornadoes struck 10 states.

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