Maxwell Tornado of 1944
Maxwell, Story county, Iowa
On May 18th, 1944, around 10:30pm, a storm moved toward Maxwell, a small rural town in Story County. Residents of the town remember the severe damage caused by the tornado and flooding from heavy rains. Merril Hoyt, 28, and West Mohler, 12, who perished in the storm that night, are still remembered by residents in the Maxwell area.
May 18th was graduation day for high school seniors at Maxwell High school; later that night was the Alumni Banquet, but it was cancelled due to the approaching storm and was never rescheduled.
Jerry White, a 13-year-old student and resident of Maxwell at the time, recalls the destruction caused by the tornado to local residents in the area. Jerry White was not directly impacted by the tornado, but he remembers hearing about the damage from his neighbors by phone and driving around the next day to see the damage firsthand.
In 1944, there were no sirens spread throughout the town to warn of a possible tornado in the area. As the tornado approached from the west, it moved toward Jack Vier’s residence destroying his barn. After crossing a creek, the tornado then approached Skinny Maneer’s residence. At the time of the storm, a card game was underway at Mr. Maneer’s home. After the tornado passed there were cards and money spread out all over the yard and cemetery that was nearby.
Merril Hoyte, was home with his wife and child when the tornado hit. The tornado carried his wife and child quite a ways before tossing them into a fence. His child and wife survived the tornado, but Merril was killed in the destruction.
The Rupes, an older couple living just outside of Maxwell in the path of the tornado, had a very close encounter with the destruction of the storm. The tornado killed a few pigs on their farm and even sent a piece of 2×4 through a sow’s neck; she was later put down. The strong winds plucked the feathers off some of the chickens and destroyed all of the farm buildings. A tree fell just a few feet from them while they were lying in bed, and the sheets were ripped off the Rupes’ bed.
The tornado then moved to the Mohler’s residence. Harold Mohler, the father, was playing in the card game at Skinny Maneer’s at the time of the storm. Gene Mohler, his wife, and her 3 children, were home at the time the tornado hit. The tornado displaced heavy machinery and destroyed many of the buildings on the farm. Wes Mohler, the oldest child, went up to the kitchen to retrieve something. The tornado picked him up and threw him into the basement where a car was dropped on him. After spreading grief at the Mohler’s residence, the tornado popped up off the ground and returned back to the clouds.
The tornado stayed in the rural areas just outside of Maxwell, so there was no serious damage to any of the local businesses or residents living in town. According to Dorothy L. Longcor, Stan Bullard kept his restaurant open all night to serve coffee and donuts to the rescue workers. There was, however, severe flooding along with the tornado. It was caused by heavy rains that raised Indian Creek over its banks.
The tornado of 1944 was one of the worst recorded severe storms in the Maxwell area.It was estimated that the tornado was on the ground for nearly 5 miles. Another tornado occurred in Maxwell on September 1, 1965, but the severity of this storm was nowhere near that of 1944.