Taming the Tornadoes of Carroll County
Glidden, Carroll county, Iowa
The tornadoes that hit Carroll County in 1871 and 1886 seemed to have had a preference for hitting businesses in the area. On June 17, 1871, a tornado “of the greatest power” hit the town of Glidden. Of its approach, one historian writes: “The cloud with its hanging arm was noted distinctly when yet some distance off. It traveled with fearful rapidity.”
In Glidden, the storm got right to work. “Bowers and Culver, the druggists, were struck and their store so badly twisted that the upper story will have to come off. Glass fronts were blown in and light objects carried by the wind in every direction. A hay rake was driven across the street and carried through the front of Bruner and Browning’s store.”
A child about five years old and a man were killed by the storm, and an elderly woman was injured to the point where recovery was doubtful. Various homes were “blown to splinters” and several people were injured.
Between the late 1870s and 1912, when the “History of Carroll County Iowa” by Paul Maclean was published, Carroll County experienced relatively temperate weather overall. Since the European settlers from the eastern states brought with them farming techniques that changed the face of the prairie, Maclean was quick to attribute the change in climate to these new practices, as can be read in the following paragraph by the historian.
“Indeed, as the face of the prairie has gradually grown from a naked plain to a surface of farms upon each of which groves have been grown and buildings erected to interrupt the free play of the elements, the excesses of the climate have been brought under control, and the seasons come and go without exciting more apprehension than is found in the tolerable certainty that December and January will bring a moderate amount of inclemency, and that in August a term may be expected for which no word is found in the new version to furnish a suitable description.”
Maclean believed that the settlers’ organization of the prairie led to a decrease in tornadoes, blizzards, extreme heat, drought, hail, and insect plague. Indeed, in 1912 he writes as if tornadoes were a thing of the past, saying that fifty years prior, “the winds had fair and free play” over the untamed land, leading to “the tornadoes whose powers and malevolence are not to be described.” While the change in landscape brought about by farming and forestation may have had an effect on wind, perhaps the historian spoke too soon.
In fact, well into the settlement of Carroll County—whose borders were officiated on December 2, 1850 by the Third General Assembly of Iowa—the town of Coon Rapids was destroyed by a tornado. On April 14, 1886, “an immense copper-colored cloud with a dangling column communicating with the earth and swinging violently in the wake of the rapidly moving canopy overhead,” approached the town from the south.
When the tornado crossed a train track, “the storm caught a moving freight train of twenty cars, all heavily loaded. Sixteen were blown from the track and left in a greater or less degree of wreckage.” But the storm did not stop there.
In Coon Rapids, businesses ruined included: the wagon shop of H. Wallace, the Enterprise office, and the Cook warehouse. Thirty-two residential buildings were either blown away or badly damaged, “many swept clear of their foundations and blown to atoms.” Total property damages were estimated at $50,000, which does not include the railroad damage.
The two Roygos brothers were doing custodial work at the school when the storm hit. One of them was killed while the other was not seriously hurt.
In 2018, we know that land use practices do not encourage or discourage tornadoes, as Maclean thought. Instead, tornadoes that rip through towns increase the dollar amount of damages, as opposed to those that remain in fields or don’t touch down. As recently as April 2017, Carroll county experienced a tornado that brought with it hail the size of a quarter. Tornadoes are caused by a change in wind speed and direction when there is a lack of stability in the atmosphere.