The Tornado of 1968
Okoboji, Dickinson County, Iowa
Although the destructive 1936 tornado is sometimes described as the first in the settler history of the Lake Region, John Parson and Stephen Kennedy write of a 1905 tornado in the area that prompted the establishment of the Okoboji Protective Association. In any case, it is clear that tornadoes were not willing to grant Dickinson County an exemption. Another occurred, for example, June 13, 1968, as summer people were settling into their cottages for the season.
R. Aubrey LaFoy provides a vivid description of the storm from a summer resident’s point of view. He recalls a severe weather notice from the Des Moines Weather Bureau and going with his son out to the road to see the storm coming (not perhaps the response that the weather bureau had in mind). To the west, he and his son saw a number of funnels descending
briefly from the clouds and then ascending again. The brunt of the storm was expected to arrive from the southwest.
And it did. The trail of damage started at Emerson Bay, tracked east over Pocahontas Point and struck the south and east shores of West Lake Okoboji. It moved from Terrace Park across Pillsbury Point to Arnold Park, including the amusement park there, and then on north to Smith’s trailer court in Okoboji. Fifty farms reported damage. $3million was the damage estimate in Dickinson County.
In a lake district in the summer it is not surprising that beach cottages, boats, and treehouses took some of the punishment. While LaFoy’s family was in the basement below the stairs in their cottage, the tornado lifted the roof an inch or two and drove water inside through the louvered windows. The box elder with its treehouse was lifted away and elms were twisted off their roots. While some boats were thrown on the beach, others were thrown out into the middle of the lake. Some people who had taken shelter under the bridge between lakes claimed that as the tornado crossed the lake, “the water was sucked out of that channel under the bridge and they could see the bottom.”
The records indicate that no people were killed in the 1968 Dickinson County tornado.
Sources: SHSI: John W. Parson and Stephen Kennedy, Okoboji Gold: Selected Historical Articles and Short Stories of the Iowa Great Lakes Region, Okoboji, 1991; R. Aubrey LaFoy, Reminiscing
about the Iowa Great Lakes, Crescent Pub., 1997.