A series of tornadoes struck North Dakota on this date ten years ago, affecting New Salem, Washburn, Wilton, Underwood, and Bismarck. The tornadoes that hit northern Bismarck caused the most damage, tearing off the roofs of houses and even large parts of residential garages with 90-mile an hour winds.
These tornadoes were the latest tornadoes of the season to occur in North Dakota’s recorded history. Previously, the latest tornado had occurred nearly three weeks earlier in the season, on October 11th, 1979, in Sargent County.
What made the new record even more amazing was that it came as a snow storm blanketed the western part of the state! Alice Johnson, an office employee in Bismarck, was astonished when she heard the tornado warning. She quickly replied, “Are you kidding?” when told to seek shelter in her building’s hallway. It was late afternoon, and residents were ordered indoors for nearly two hours. School kids were held inside for an extra hour and a half, until the storms had passed. Fortunately, only a single injury occurred during the late-season storm – a high school student struck by flying debris, breaking her jaw.
Bismarck’s Century High School and more than fifty homes were damaged. Nearly all of the homeowners had insurance, and an assessment of property damage determined that a national response wasn’t necessary. Likewise, most of the families were able to find alternative shelter with friends and family, so the city declined the Red Cross’s offer to set up an emergency shelter.
Most of the city’s residents noted the way that the community was brought together after the storm. Bismarck resident Lou Schwindt later commented that, “It was really neat during the day to just listen to the radio and hear people calling in and offering their homes. This is the first time Bismarck has come close to a major disaster.”
Unfortunately, the city’s strength would be tested again only a year later, when a devastating hail storm struck on June 9th. Unlike the late tornado of 2000, the hail storm would cause millions of dollars in damage, resulting in the most insurance claims ever filed in North Dakota for a single event.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job