May 15-16, 1968 Tornado Outbreak

Outbreak Summary:

The May 15-16 1968 tornado outbreak was a significant and deadly tornado outbreak.  It affected the states of: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee.  This outbreak produced 39 tornadoes from 3:28 PM CDT on May 15th through 2:50 AM CDT on May 16th.  This included two F5 tornadoes in northeast Iowa.  The table below provides a summary of the tornado intensities during this outbreak.

Confirmed Tornado Summary
State
Tornado Strength
Total
F0**
F1**
F2**
F3**
F4**
F5**
Arkansas
0
1
0
1
2
0
4
Illinois
0
1
0
3
0
0
4
Indiana
0
0
3
1
0
0
4
Iowa
0
2
1
0
0
2
5
Kansas
0
0
0
1*
0
0
1
Minnesota
1
3
1
0
0
0
5
Missouri
0
5
3
1*
0
0
9
Mississippi
0
2
1
0
0
0
3
Ohio
0
1
1
0
0
0
2
Tennessee
0
3
0
0
0
0
3
Overall
1
18
10
6
2
2
39
* Tornado crossed from Kansas into Missouri. Since it was the same tornado, it was only counted once in the overall numbers.
** Fujita and Enhanced Fujita Scale

These tornadoes caused 72 fatalities and 1,203 injuries.  It was one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in the United States since the 1960s and is one of the deadliest outbreaks in Arkansas history.   The table below provides a break down by state of the fatalities and injuries during this outbreak.

Summary of Fatalities & Injuries
State Fatalities  Injuries
Arkansas 45 413
Illinois 8 135
Indiana 1 20
Iowa 18 619
Minnesota 0 3
Mississippi 0 7
Missouri 0 6
Totals 72 1203

Outbreak Details:

As an anomalously deep low pressure system moved east out of the Central and High Plains into the Mid and Upper Mississippi River Valley during the afternoon of May 15, 1968, severe weather developed quickly.  The first tornado occurred in southeast Minnesota (Dakota and Rice counties) at 3:28 PM CDT.  During the next three hours, another 18 tornadoes were reported across Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Missouri.  This included two F5 tornadoes that hit central and eastern parts of the Iowa about 45 minutes apart during the late afternoon.  These two tornadoes caused 18 fatalities and 618 injuries. 
Map of the May 15-16, 1968 Tornado Outbreak
  May 15-16, 1968 Tornado Occurrences
(Image compliments of the University of Michigan)

The first F5 tornado moved through five counties and 65 miles.  It affected Charles City just before 5 PM CDT (4:47 PM) destroying much of the area.  Damage figures were estimated up to $30 million in Charles City alone while $1.5 million of damage was recorded elsewhere.  This tornado killed 13 and injured 462 others.  The second F5 tornado affected Fayette County around 4:57 PM CDT.  It damaged or destroyed nearly 1,000 homes. The hardest hit areas were Oelwein and Maynard where homes were completely swept away from their foundations.  Five people were killed while 156 others were injured.  Damage was estimated at $21 million.  These were two of four F5 tornadoes across the United States in 1968, the others being in southeastern Ohio on April 23 and in southwestern Minnesota on June 13.  (The next and last official F5 tornado in Iowa took place in Jordan on June 13, 1976.)

After the first tornadoes struck the Upper Mississippi River Valley, the tornadic activity developed further south and east during the evening hours of May 15th and early morning hours of May 16th.  Several deadly tornadoes occurred in Arkansas.  One of the tornadoes touched down west of Jonesboro before hitting the Craighead County city itself at around 10 PM CDT.  The tornado which caught most residents by surprise since most of the warning systems failed and killed at least 34.  One more person was killed in neighboring Jackson County.  The tornado was the deadliest in Arkansas since an F4 tornado that affected White County on March 21, 1952 killing 50 people.

The same city was hit by another destructive tornado five years later killing at least three and injuring 250 others while leaving much more destruction throughout the city then the 1968 event.  The damage figures were about $62 million in 1973 dollars.  Another F4 tornado just to the west of Jonesboro killed 7 in Oil Trough in Independence County and 3 others were killed in Baxter County.

The activity ceased across the Deep South when the final tornadoes touched down across the Metropolitan Memphis area and northern Mississippi as well as in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area. 

List of Confirmed Tornadoes during this Outbreak:

List of Confirmed Tornadoes in the May 15-16, 1968 Outbreak*
Date
Time (CDT)
State
Counties
Locations
Fatalities**
Injuries**
Length of Path (Miles)
Width
of Path (Feet)
15
1528
MN
Dakota & Rice
4W Northfield to 1SE New Trier
2
0
3
15.4
1000
Funnel sighted on east side of Lake Mazaska at 3:28 PM CDT moving northeast. It touched down 4 miles west of Northfield at 3:42 PM CDT damaging 30 farms in southern Dakota County. The funnel lifted at 4:05 PM CDT one mile southeast of New Trier. It appeared to be 2 or 3 small funnels. One woman was injured as a barn collapsed 3 miles south of New Hampton. Hail and heavy rain was also observed in Rice and Dakota counties. There was an unofficial 7 inch rainfall report near Miesville.
15
1530
IL
Mason & Logan
Easton to east of Natrona
3
0
25
12.6
1800
Tornado left a 1/4 to 1/2 mile path from Easton to east of Natrona. Greatest concentration of damage at Natrona where most of 15 houses were destroyed beyond repair. Other buildings were damaged and several railroad box cars were overturned.
15
1545
KS & MO
Miami (KS) & Cass (MO)
2 NE of Louisburg KS to just south of Cleveland, MO
3
0
0
2.8
150
A tornado originating northeast of Louisburg, KS (Miami County) crossed into Cass County (Missouri). While in Kansas, the tornado caused damage on eight farms. In Missouri, it caused minor intermittent tree damage and destroyed a barn 2 miles south of Cleveland, Missouri. At this point, the tornado lifted and continued northeast through Peculiar, Missouri and Pleasant Hill areas generating numerous funnel cloud reports.
15
1610
IA
Franklin, Butler, Floyd, Chickasaw, Howard
3 NE Hansell (Franklin County) thru Charles City and Elma to 2S of Chester (Howard County)
5
13
462
62.1
1800
Tornado first sighted passing over a farmstead northeast of Hansell. It moved over the east edge of Aredale. Two funnels were simultaneously sighted at Aerdale. A funnel was observed to lift at Marble Rock. A continuous tornado path and associated tornado sightings were reported from east of Marble Rock to Charles City. The northeastward path of the tornado became northward as it swept through downtown Charles City at 4:47 PM CDT and then recurving as it left Charles City to move northeast to Elma, passing northeastward across Elma and thence moving north-northeast to Highway 9 and finally north and northwest as it dissipated south of Chester. The greatest losses were in Charles City where 13 persons were killed, 450 injured of which 76 were hospitalized. 337 homes were completely destroyed and 1565 families in Charles City were affected by the tornado. Losses were estimated up to 30 million dollars. In Elma 12 persons were injured, 3 hospitalized and damage estimated at 1.5 million dollars. Additionally many farmsteads and rural homes were damaged or destroyed. The tornado entered Elma at 5:25 PM CDT and continued to a point 14 miles north of Elma where its destructive path ended.
15
1630
MO
Johnson
Elm
2
0
2
5.2
600
A tornado apparently generated by the same parent storm which produced the tornado and funnel cloud activity in Cass County touched down 1 1/2 miles south and 2 3/4 miles west of Pittsville in northwest Johnson County. Barns and outbuildings were destroyed or damaged on seven farms. A home and service station were destroyed as the tornado crossed Highway 50 on the east edge of Elm (1 1/2 miles west of Pittsville). The tornado apparently lifted 1 mile east and 1 1/2 miles north of Pittsville. Isolated damage to farm buildings occurred at a point 5 miles north and 6 miles east of Pittsville, just south of the Johnson-Lafayette County line along the protected path of this storm, but it could not be determined if the damage was of tornadic origin.
15
1645
IN
Hendricks & Morgan
Hazlewood & Lake Bodona
2
0
5
8.8
30
Thirty homes were damaged in the Hazlewood area. One house trailer was demolished. The tornado moved eastward injuring one person in the Lake Bodona community. Twenty more homes were destroyed or excessively damaged. Golf ball size hail was reported in the Mooresville area about 5:00 PM CDT. Hail from marble to baseball size occurred earlier.
15
1645
MO
Ray
Richmond (northwest)
1
0
0
3.6
150
A small tornado destroyed or damaged barns and sheds on five farms along a path from a point 2 1/2 miles west and 1 1/2 miles north of Richmond to a point 4 miles north and 1 1/2 miles west. The tornado was followed by gold ball size hail.
15
1657
IA
Fayette
Oelwein to Maynard
5
5
156
13.1
1500
The tornado passed through downtown Oelwein and moved north-northeast to Maynard moving through the town in a northward direction. It ended about 5 miles north-northeast of Maynard. Of the 156 injuries, 34 were hospitalized. 965 families were affected by the tornado. Loss estimates ranged upward to 21 million dollars. Most of which occurred in Oelwein.
15
1658
IA
Fayette
Jackson Junction
1
0
0
0.3
900
Brief tornado touch down
15
1700
IL
DeWitt
Waynesville to Wapello & Farmer City
1
4
50
25.4
3000
Tornado struck just east of Waynesville, reached Wapello about 5:15 PM CDT and continued east, apparently lifting before reaching Farmer City where damage was extensive but mostly high level, upper portions of trees and houses. Timing and direction of travel (directly west to east) indicates this tornado was from the same severe thunderstorm as the one that moved through Mason and Logan counties, with considerable damage en route between touchdowns. Major wind damage indicates unusually high velocity winds on either side of tornado with major damage path often two to three miles wide. Nearly 100 steel towers on three electric transmission lines were destroyed.
15
1700
MN
Freeborn
5 S of Oakland
0
0
0
0.1
30
Small tornado at 5:00 PM CDT dipped within 25 feet of the ground 5 miles south of Oakland causing minor damage. 60-70 mph unofficial winds west of Austin destroyed a display mobile home at 5:36 PM CDT. Winds after 4:00 PM CDT in eastern Freeborn and Mower counties damaged numerous barns, corn cribs, outbuildings, and 550 telephones were out of service. At 5:30 PM CDT, half inch diameter hail was reported between Emmons and south of Albert Lea, and Austin.
15
1700
MO
Johnson & Lafayette
1 W of Lafayettville to 1.5 NE of Concordia
2
0
0
12.3
150
A storm paralleling the track of tornado producing storm that moved through Elm, but displaced 4 miles to the southeast, produced a small tornado which touched down briefly to damage buildings on a farm 1 mile west of Lafayetteville in north central Johnson County. The next damage occurred 5 1/4 miles to the northeast on a farm 1 mile south of the Johnson/Lafayette County line and 3 miles east of Highway 13. Minor damage to barns, outbuildings and timber occurred along a narrow skipping path from a point on the county line 4 miles south and 4 west of Concordia, across the southeast edge of Concordia to a point 1 mile east and 1 1/2 miles north.
15
1700
MO
Lafayette & Saline
3 S of Alma to Malta Bend
1
0
0
4.9
150
Along an extension of the damage track from Louisburg, KS through Elm, MO, a series of brief touchdowns occurred along a skipping path beginning on the east side of Missouri Highway 23 three miles south of Alma where 4 farms sustained outbuilding damage. The next significant damage occurred from a half mile south Blackburn across the southeast portion of Blackburn to a farm 1 mile east and 3/4 mile north. The funnel cloud remained aloft for the next seven miles and then touched down again on the south and east portions of Malta Bend causing principally roof and tree damage and flipping over a car after its occupant had abandoned it on sighting the approaching tornado.
15
1707
MN
Dodge
7 SW of Dodge Center to 5 SW of Dodge Center
1
0
0
7.8
60
Funnel was sighted 1 mile northeast of Blooming Prairie and touched down 7 miles southwest of Dodge Center at 4:17 PM and continued northeast for 2 miles. Damage was reported to outbuildings on 3 farms. Unofficial winds gusted up 60 mph. These winds did considerable damage in Blooming Prairie, Hayfield, Dodge Center, Kasson, and Mantorville areas. The wall of a cement block building under construction was blown over. This damaged several cars. 1280 turkeys were killed. Hail observed: golf ball at 5 PM CDT in Dodge Center; 3/4 inch diameter hail at 4:37 PM CDT and golf ball at 4:53 PM CDT at Blooming Prairie, and 1 3/4 inch diameter hail three miles northeast of Blooming Prairie.
15
1740
MN
Steele & Dodge
1/2 NE of Pratt to 2 W of Skyburg
1
0
0
16.6
80
Tornado touched down at 5:40 PM CDT a half miles northeast of Pratt and continued northeasterly to 2 miles west of Skyburg. It damaged outbuildings on 7 farms. From the damage pattern, it appeared to be two tornadoes. Golf ball size hail observed in Owatonna at 5:05 PM CDT.
15
1745
IA
Audubon
Audubon
1
0
1
2
750
Two farmsteads damaged.
15
1800
MO
Jasper
Near Alba
1
0
3
2.5
150
A tornado overturned a parked car in mid air slightly injuring its three occupants on Route D 1 1/2 miles south of Alba and then continued northeastward to destroy or damage buildings and timber on three farms along a 2 mile path winding on Rote D, 1 mile south and 2 miles east of Alba.
15
1815
OH
Wayne
Wooster Area
1
0
0
1
1100
A tornado touched ground on the west side of State Route 302 about 3 miles west northwest of Wooster. Eye witnesses saw the tornado just after it demolished a barn and moved eastward across Route 302 about 500 feet in front of their cars. The storm then moved across an open field before tearing off the roof of another barn. Witnesses heard a roar similar to a large jet plane getting ready to "take off". Heavy rain followed the storm. Golf ball size hail was reported in Wooster.
15
1815
IA
Howard & Winneshiek
Southeast Howard to West Central Winneshiek County
2
0
0
4.7
750
Tornado moved north northeast.
15
1845
MN
Fillmore & Houston
2 SE of Canton to 3 NW of Spring Grove
1
0
0
8.4
230
At 6:45 PM CDT, a tornado touched down 2 miles southeast of Canton damaging 3 farms and a church as it moved northeastward to 3 miles northwest of Spring Grove.
15
1850
IL
Iroquois
 East of Milford
3
0
0
7.1
1200
Several homes and buildings destroyed or damaged. Twenty five piggy-back loaded freight cars were blown off tracks. Tornado was sighted and clearly described by witnesses. Only minor injuries reported.
15
1900
OH
Wayne
Wooster Area
2
0
0
1
1320
A man reported watching a funnel cloud that appeared to be momentarily stationary while the funnel "reached" for the ground. The tornado struck the ground about 8 miles east of Wooster (0.3 mile south of the junction of U.S. 30 and County Road 84 on 84) where it demolished a barn and several other farm buildings before moving east northeast through a woods. Heavy rain followed the tornado and there were several reports of marble size hail in the area.
15
1930
AR
Baxter
Mountain Home
3
3
25
7.3
600
Twenty residences were completely destroyed and 50 damaged. Twelve trailers were destroyed and 15 sustained major damage. There was major damage to four businesses. Boats on Lake Norfolk were damaged as were several resorts and boat bocks. Storm struck first at approximately 6:30 PM three miles north of Mountain Home then it moved east and crossed Lake Norfolk just north of Highway 62 and 101 ferries striking the east shore near the community of Henderson. The funnel was seen and heard in the vicinity by several.
15
2015
AR
Fulton
Viola and Salem
1
0
0
0.1
30
Two trailers were hit and overturned one mile east of Viola. Roof of recreation hall and walls damaged in same area area on Route 62. Roof blown off Viola school and several homes in Viola damaged. Further to the east, wind damage occurred near Camp (Fulton County) where there was heavy timber damage.
15
2040
MO
Jefferson
Fletcher (North)
1
0
0
5.9
300
A tornado first touched down in a wooded area near the intersection of Route WW and the Brown Ford Road or 2 miles east of the Junction of Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin Counties (3 miles north and 1/2 mile west of Fletcher). Intermittent damage occurred to heavily timbered areas and to 4 farms to a point just east of the intersection of Route C and the Reynolds Creek Road (5 miles west and a half north of Hillsboro).
15
2136
AR
Independence
Oil Trough
4
7
24
0.3
900
1/2 to 2/3rds of Oil Trough destroyed. Few houses escaped damage. Roof and wall damage to high school. Implement company destroyed. Sixty people were in the Church of Christ when the church building exploded with tornado contact and only 1 injured. Dozen or more cars damaged. Post office and grocery destroyed. $750,000 damage. Tornado moved west-southwest to east-northeast.
15
2145
IL
St. Clair
Freeburg
3
4
60
2
600
Major tornado damage at Freeburg. Dead and most of injured were in a completely destroyed trailer court. Homes and other buildings badly destroyed.
15
2145
AR
Jackson, Craighead, & Mississippi
Tuckerman, Jonesboro, & Manila
4
35
364
20.9
750
Six houses destroyed and 15 partially damaged along with some businesses in the south end of Tuckerman. This tornado then moved about 30 mph from Tuckerman to Jonesboro. The tornado touched down just outside of Valley View, followed Highway 39 into Jonesboro, smashed into Fairview and Nettleton and continued into Needham. Nettleton High School was almost completely destroyed. At least 7 cars on one stretch of highway were hurled across a nearby railway and some cars were wrapped around trees killing occupants. 164 homes were destroyed. Crops (mostly cotton) were damaged with heavy rain accompanying the tornado. The tornado was not on the ground between Jonesboro and Manila. However the severe thunderstorm did produce some minor wind in Craighead County. The tornado did touch down again in Manila where it destroyed in the downtown area (three blocks of buildings). Twelve buildings were totally destroyed.
15
2150
MO
Butler
3 SSW of Neelyville
2
0
1
0.2
60
A tornado touched down briefly along U.S. 67 three miles south southwest of Neelyville destroying two buildings, injuring one person, and flipping a parked truck on top of a station wagon.
15
2220
MO
Dunklin
Campbell
1
0
0
1.5
50
A tornado touched down in a park on the west edge of Campbell and then was observed to lift slightly to pass over the business district causing only minor tree top damage and returned to ground level on a farm just northeast of the city.
15
2251
IN
Tippecanoe
NW Lafayette
2
0
0
0.1
30
Two small buildings were destroyed about 5 miles northwest of Lafayette.
15
2330
IN
Clinton
Beard
2
0
0
0.1
30
Extensive damage occurred on two farms, at different hours on the night of May 15-16. One barn was destroyed and another barn was damaged with a silo toppled. Sixteen head of cattle were lost. Farm equipment was damaged and windows broken in dwelling. Tornadic action late of the 15th were followed by damaging winds in the immediate vicinity early of the 16th (2:30 AM).
16
0020
TN
Shelby
20 S of Millington Naval Air Station
1
0
0
0.1
30
Tornado touched down 20 miles south of Millington Naval Air Station. No damage reported.
16
0102
IN
Wabash, Huntington, & Allen
3 S of Wabash through Andrews and Huntington to Allen
3
1
15
50.3
30
One woman killed when her mobile home was blown across a highway and demolished near Wabash. Twelve other trailer homes were destroyed and 12 persons injured. Three air craft were damaged at the Wabash Airport with an estimated $60,000 loss. State Police near Andrews reported 3 personal injuries and 4 houses blown down. Several houses were destroyed and damaged just west of Huntington. Also a resident reported a touch down of the tornado six miles east of Huntington, and then apparently intermittent touch downs in a path continuing northeastward. Twenty homes were extensively damaged and 20 barns were either destroyed or damaged. Fifteen homes were damaged in New Haven. Flash flooding from sudden downpour of rain accompanying this storm was reported to be the worst in this area in 25 years. Telephone company cables and poles broken and knocked down from one half mile south of Andrews in a northeasterly direction to Huntington. Golf ball size hail and 100 mile an hour winds were reported.
16
0120
MS
DeSoto
Hernando
2
0
7
5.2
300 
Storm moved from west southwest to east northeast. During rainy weather, two funnels appeared, one reached the ground. Tornado hop skipped only hitting sparsely parts first. One and a half miles south of Hernando, the tornado severely damaged two unoccupied concrete block houses, destroyed an Antique shop (crushing the building that housed it) and a farm implement company, damaged two homes, destroyed a garage, chicken house with 185 chickens, unroofed a barn, and moved a small house several yards off of its foundation. The tornado then destroyed another two homes, many trees were uprooted, and telephone service in the area was disrupted by broken poles. The storm lifted traveled about 2 miles then wrecked a nearby home where a man received severe cuts and abrasions on his head. It then went northwest across a highway where it unroofed a house. Further to the east, a house trailer was reported blown over, and some roof damage to a home. All across the countryside, numerous trees, and telephone and electric power poles were blown down. Six people were reported bruised by debris.
16
0140
MS
Tate
Independence
1
0
0
0.1
30 
Public reported a tornado uprooted numerous trees in Independence. The sheriff office estimated the damage at $500.
16
0215
TN
Shelby
13 NNW of Memphis to just east of the Millington Naval Air Station
1
0
0
0.1
30
A tornado skipped across portions of Shelby County as it moved in a northeasterly direction from 13 miles north northwest of Memphis, to just east of the Millington Naval Air Station (25 miles northeast of Memphis). The path was across open country, and no damage was reported.
16
0230
MS
Marshall
25 SE of Memphis
1
0
0
0.1
30
Tornado touched down on Highway 78 about 25 miles southeast of Memphis and it seemed to follow the highway for a short distance. One truck was pushed off the road, another jackknifed, and two others were involved.
16
0250
TN
Shelby
Near Germantown
1
0
0
0.1
30
A tornado is suspected to have appeared briefly, near Germantown (8 miles east of Memphis). Minor wind damage to trees and power lines. Heavy rain of 1 to 2 inches, to as much as 3 inches were reported from scattered thunderstorms in western parts of the state.
* The data in this table came from Storm Data, Significant Tornadoes--1680-1991 by Thomas P. Grazulis and the TornadoProjectHistory.com
** Injuries and Deaths are for the entire tornado track.

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