Today's date may shake the memories of many older Northeast Iowans, who witnessed a monster tornado tear through some area towns and counties 49 years ago: a date now known locally as "Black Wednesday".


It was back on May 15th, of 1968, around the time residents are coming home from work, and fixing supper: just before 5pm that day, skies grew dark very quickly in the city of Oelwein.

A twister, at the time rated as an F-5 on the Fujita Scale, descended from the clouds just southwest of Oelwein, pushed northeast, tearing a path of destruction through the city.

Winds clocked at over 260 mph destroyed numerous homes and businesses; one person in Oelwein was killed when some debris fell on top of her.

Aerial View of Oelwein, post-tornado. Photo from Facebook

The tornado continued through rural Fayette County to Maynard, where dozens of other homes were crushed, and five people were killed.

Minutes before the Oelwein twister hit, another monster cyclone struck Charles City, killing 13 people and destroying many buildings.

That day, a total of nine tornadoes touched down in Iowa, five of them classified as F-5.

The Oelwein Fire Department now checks the city's warning sirens the 15th of each month during the season in which a tornado could possibly develop.