Monday, July 2, 2012
A tornado struck near Walcott, North Dakota, on this date in 1955. Although rated an F4 on the Fujita scale, the National Weather Service claims that the tornado probably reached the wind speed and size of an F5 several times before it dissipated. If true, it would be one of only three F5 tornadoes to hit the state. Two people lost their lives in the storm and many rural families lost their homes and farms. Those who lived through the storm still remember the tornado’s fury.
According to survivor James Nelson, who has written a memoir about the storm, the day had been clear and sunny. Soon after dinner, however, things began to rapidly change. As the sky darkened, the family gathered at the window. It was dead calm. Nelson called it a quiet so intense it became a pressure that hurt his ears. They began to hear a roar in the distance, doors slammed open, the car in the driveway began to bounce, and the farm-buildings began to lean, but still they felt no wind.
The roar grew louder. The windmill blew apart. The barn and granary roofs lifted off; the granary tumbled across the yard like a cardboard box, and the barn collapsed in a spray of debris.
Nelson’s father herded the family into the next room just as the back porch ripped from the house and lifted skyward. James turned to see his nephew, Curtis, disappear. The family hunkered down, but they, too, were soon thrown into the sky. James was knocked unconscious, and awoke in a field near his mother and father. Slowly, neighbors arrived to find the family. His sister’s neck was broken and his mother’s hips, his father’s arm, his niece Rebecca’s skull. His younger niece, 13-month-old Cecelia, did not survive. Rebecca suffered brain damage and never recovered. They found Curtis stuck in a dirt hole further afield, his arm broken in three places.
Their neighbors had weathered the storm beneath their basement steps, but their two-story house was gone. Grandparents Helmer and Birdie Bakko did not fare as well – their home was destroyed, Helmer was killed, and Birdie was permanently paralyzed from a spinal injury.
Slowly, the community recovered. Neighbors helped Nelson’s family until they could rebuild their farm. To this day, Nelson says he cannot sleep through a storm, and finds himself constantly watching the sky, just in case.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme Job
Nelson, James W. 2010 “Tornado,” in Shattercolors Literary Review (online publication) [originally published in the Fargo Forum, 1990].
The Bismarck Tribune.“Walcott Recalls Tornado of 1955,” in State and Regional News. Saturday, July 2, 2005.
http://www.boulgerfuneralhome.com/obits/obit.php?id=2830(Obituary of Wilfred Bakko)