Column: Gustav, Ike bring region's tornadic past to mindThe thing I said I did not want to pursue was a question raised in a telephone call: “Are these hurricanes worse than tornadoes?” Well — how do you measure this?
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — “Oh — I don’t want to pursue this,” I said. Then I relented.
Newspapers lately focused on Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike. Of course these two most-recent storms smashing the U.S. Gulf Coast revived comment on Hurricane Katrina from three years gone by.
(Television focused on the hurricanes, too, but — because it was known that millions would be watching — the TV channels crammed so many commercials into their broadcasts that pictures of the waves nearly were lost amid pictures of pills and pictures of new cars.)
The thing I said I did not want to pursue was a question raised in a telephone call: “Are these hurricanes worse than tornadoes?” Well — how do you measure this? Hurricanes and tornadoes both are terrible and frightening shows of destructive power. Hurricanes extend over broader areas than do tornadoes; tornadoes make slices which might be compared to cuts by a scalpel.
When was 1886? A long time ago. On April 14, 1886, a tornado in Minnesota twisted from St. Cloud to Sauk Rapids. It killed 72 people. It injured 213. Eleven persons from a wedding party, including the bride and the groom, were killed. This was the most deadly storm Minnesota ever has known — the Gulf Coast hurricanes this year did not claim as many casualties. Minnesota has known many and many and many tornadoes since 1886 of course.
In 1918 — closer to home — an August tornado stripped Tyler in the night. Thirty-six persons were killed. The local National Guard Co. F was fighting in World War I. Worthington’s State Guard — older guys — were ordered out to assist Tyler’s emergency.
A tornado swept Worthington in 1933, tearing down the trees at Chautauqua Park and ripping the roof from the grandstand at the county fairgrounds.
It has been 40 years since a Thursday night tornado tore through Tracy. Thirteen people were killed, 11 were injured critically. At least 72 received injuries. Two boxcars were lifted from the railroad tracks and dropped three blocks away. Streets were bulldozed to permit traffic to move into the city. Half the houses in Tracy were destroyed.
In that same night, the Iowa Great Lakes region was devastated. Retired Arnolds Park police chief Tom Ritzer remembers:
“I was in the police car myself, down by the state pier, and could see it coming across the lake. There was more than one — more like three or four — but it was just like a big, black wall …”
Fillenworth’s Resort was wiped away. The Queen was lifted from the lake. The Roof Garden was shredded. Fifty farms in the Great Lakes area lost at least one building.
One tornado story repeated often through passing years was the storm which mowed a wide strip from south of Rushmore to north of Reading. This was an early-season storm; it came on the eve of Easter (March 26), 1921. Two Nobles County women were killed and five people were injured. The lilies of Easter became funeral flowers.
In the week of Mother’s Day, 1956, another tornado dropped into Nobles County at almost precisely the same spot as the 1921 tornado and followed a path past Rushmore toward Reading along the same route as the 1921 tornado. There were no injuries in 1956 but there was huge loss.
June 15, 1992. Fifty-eight tornadoes dropped on the United States. June 16, 1992. Sixty-five tornadoes. In all, 123 tornadoes in slightly more than 24 hours. And —
The worst of those 123 — the only tornado with an F5 status — swirled along the valley from the west and in truth shredded half of Chandler. There was devastation beyond anything most in the local region had ever seen. The full path of the storm extended from a point west of Leota on to Lake Wilson, which also had extensive damage. One person died.
Chandler saved its collapsed watertower with the words, “In God We Trust,” as a tornado monument, one the great monuments of any kind through a wide region.
Then — early once again — March 29, 1998 — 10 years gone by — Comfrey was shattered by a tornado system which pushed on to twist and batter St. Peter. Two people were killed. Thirty-six were injured. Comfrey created a thanksgiving plaza which is a moving site to visit.
Like the Gulf Coast, our own region has many scars from wicked assaults by storms.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.