Early Tornadoes and the Radio Station that Saved Lives
Clay County has more than its share of tornadoes. Early warning systems were and, even now, are alert families and neighbors.
Marilyn Meyer recounts the memory of a former Logan Township resident who remembers Mr. Ryker running from his farm to the school to warn of an oncoming tornado. Luckily the rural schools were built with attention to walking distance—two miles. The students and teacher “followed him to the storm cave on his farm where they were packed in for what seemed a very long time. My Ryker and the teacher lifted the cave door intermittently to check on the weather and when it was clear they returned to the school.”
In Anna Schmid’s 1946 memoir about her German-born father, she specifically recalls a 1914 tornado that significantly damaged their rural house. The family was awake and all eight children got to the basement on time, before the storm passed over their heads. “The lard press which weighed 40 to 50 pounds was found in the front yard nearly out to the road.” Mother had been painting screens in the attic, Anna remembered. The paint decorated all the winter underwear stored in the attic.
Sometimes Clay County residents have not had sufficient warning. In 1936 a tornado took the life of Herman Roskens and destroyed the Winterboer farm.
Radio station KICD harnessed alert weather watchers later in the 20th century to save lives. Tornadoes were/are especially difficult to detect even with the finest radar. So the radio station’s meteorologists, like Mark Bruggom, have relied also on weather watchers who take to their cars when the National Weather Service issues a severe weather bulletin. The Spencer Amateur Radio Klub “Spark,” the Iowa Great Lakes Radio Club, and others have been credited with saving lives. The US Weather Service has given the radio station several awards; they in turn give credit to their amateur informants. In 2017, Mark Bruggom published a book about the radio station called KICD: The First Seventy-Five Years.
Sources: SHSI: Marilyn Meyer, Remembering Clay County Rural Schools, Spencer 2000; Anna Schmid “Life of Father,” Spencer 1946; Showcasing Spencer, 1991; Parker Historical Society of Clay County, The History of Clay County, 1984.