Severe Weather Awareness Week: Remembering the Oelwein EF5
Tornadoes: cool as can be in movies like Twister and Wizard of Oz. Devastating and sometimes deadly as can be in real life. This week in Iowa it's Severe Weather Awareness Week (March 21st-27th). This time of year, we're worried most about the mighty tornado. But, does history match our need to be cautious and prepared? In short, yes. But for Black Hawk County, history dictates tornados are damaging, but not deadly.
First off, let's start with my sources before I throw info at you. The highly reliable website Tornado Project has documented every confirmed tornado in our state, including the specimens strength, since 1950. They did, however, stop documenting tornadoes in 2012. So, for info from '12 through today, I used various news outlets such as KCRG.
Next, understanding the term 'EF' and the number, 05, that follows. 'EF' stands for Enhanced Fujita. the Enhanced Fujita scale rates the intensity of a tornado based on the damage they cause. An EF5, the worst of the worst, contain wind speeds of over 200 miles per hour. An EF4 would be winds between 166–200 mph. This continues down 'til you hit EF0, which is a tornado with 65–85mph winds. There's been six observed EF5 tornadoes in Iowa since 1950. One of which reshaped the history of Fayette County for years to come.
The Worst Tornado in Fayette County History
Since 1950, Fayette County has experienced over 30 tornadoes, with even one hitting in March of 2020 that tore off part of the wall of a 12-unit apartment building and damaged the siding of a second building in the complex.
But, have we have actually never had 'the big one', an EF5 tornado in Oelwein? OH YES. The date was May 15th of 1968. The time was just before 5pm. That was when a massive tornado outbreak cleared a deadly swath in Oelwein, Maynard, and a separate storm system in Charles City. This became known as Black Wednesday. All totaled, 13 people were killed by the storms. 372 homes and 58 businesses, plus 8 churches and 3 schools were destroyed as well. You can read more about this historic and tragic storm here.
In case you want to see a powerful tornado up close without, you know SEEING one up close, check out from verified YouTuber Pecos Hank. He's a storm chaser and spotted this bad boy in Kansas back in 2016.
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