Dickinson County Courthouse, Spirit Lake, Iowa

The Tornado of 1936

April 30, 1936

Initially published on April 21, 2021 - the 85th anniversary of the tornado

On April 30, 1936, a large, destructive tornado formed in far northeast O'Brien County, moved across northwest Clay County, and into southwest Dickinson County. The tornado continued until it lifted on the south end of West Okoboji. It is, as of today, the only known deadly tornado in Dickinson County. The tornado killed two people, one in Dickinson County and the other in Clay County; and at least 13 were injured. A book called Significant Tornadoes 1880-1989 by Thomas P. Grazulis rates this tornado as an F4, using the original Fujita scale. This would suggest winds were from 207 to 260 mph and strongly built homes have all interior and exterior walls blown apart; cars thrown 300 yards or more in the air. Given the descriptions of the damage from this tornado, and the few pictures that exist today, a rating of this magnitude may not be out of the question.

This storm would continue to produce more tornadoes in Emmet and Martin County as it moved northeast. Two more lives would be lost near Fairmont along with over 70 people injured.

The StoryMap below has been created to show the path of the tornado and tell the stories of the people affected and the damage that occurred along the way. The text here is reproduced as it appeared in the May 7, 1936, issue of the Milford Mail newspaper. Locations were determined based on information from the newspaper articles, 1911 and 1936 plat maps, and aerial imagery from 1930.

If you have any information that would improve the accuracy of this map, or any photos from this event that you are willing to share, please e-mail mike@dcem.us.