The Elgin, ND Independence Day 1978 Tornado

July 4th, 1978 was the date of one of North Dakota's deadliest and most destructive tornadoes.  An F4 tornado struck the community of Elgin in Grant County, 60 miles southwest of Bismarck. The tornado touched down one mile west of Elgin just after 830 p.m. MDT or 930 p.m. CDT. The twister moved northeast through Elgin, killing five people, injuring 35, and doing extensive damage. After hitting Elgin, the tornado followed Highway 21 for nearly 27 miles doing tremendous damage before dissipating southeast of Carson. Although there was some skipping, the tornado was on the ground for almost an hour. 

 

Aerial view of the Elgin water tower, destroyed by the tornado. Photo by Patrick C. Miller.

The Elgin tornado was just part of a larger severe weather outbreak that struck the northern Plains from the evening of July 4th into the early morning hours of July 5th. A very warm and humid airmass combined with a low pressure system to allow for the formation of a powerful supercell thunderstorm that went on to produce the long-track tornado across Grant County, beginning just west of Elgin. The tornado was between 200 and 300 yards wide. The path of destruction through the community of Elgin was somewhat narrow but intense.

Statewide severe weather and Grant County tornado track maps

Damage pictures

Tornado Picture and Grant County News from July 13, 1978 

Personal accounts and reflections

A young reporter's view of the Elgin tornado aftermath

"IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT"

What sort of weather system produced this tornado?


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