August 30th, 1956: Fargo’s Forgotten Tornado
The tornado that destroyed a large part of north Fargo in 1957 is legendary.
What a lot of people don’t know is that just 10 months before that storm another powerful twister hit the city.
KVRR Chief Meteorologist Rob Kupec is back with story of a storm most have forgotten.
This summer will mark the 60th anniversary of an EF-3 tornado that went through Fargo.
If the ’57 storm had not occurred, we would likely still be talking about this storm and in a strange coincidence, one part of the city was hit by both tornadoes.
“We’re really not sure what exactly happened but it might have just picked the house up or it might have flipped it over but it took it off its foundation and it ended up here in the back of the lot,” said ’56 tornado survivor Richard Ackerland.
On this sunny May Day, Richard is recounting the day nearly 60 years ago a tornado destroyed his aunt’s house where he was visiting.
“You could hear mom hollering out the front door here, ‘get in!'” Richard explains. “And she was getting more and more frantic. She was saying there was a storm coming. So we ran around from the back side of the house and just as we were going into the front door, the wind hit.”
The area became industrial after the house at 2115 7th Avenue North was destroyed by the ’56 tornado.
“Just like a second or two from the time that we ran in the house, until we were pushing our way out of the rubble,” Richard adds. “I just kind of remember the sensation; it felt like insulation in our throats. I do remember that sensation but nobody was unconscious. We were able to make it to the neighbors and it was just a short time later that we got into the ambulance. Yeah,” he says. “I remember it very vividly.”
It was here at the Tree Lane Trailer Court on the 100 block of 22nd Street South that the tornado first touched down and then it started its rampage to the north across Fargo.
The tornado blew the roof off of 2118 Main Avenue, which was Rilling’s Gas Station at the time, according to The Forum newspaper.
Across the street, it leveled a Farmers Union warehouse and blew the walls off General Diesel Equipment which was at 2127 Main.
The tornado then continued north into the Fargo Tank Company and carried 8,000 pounds of tank blocks away.
The twister kept going north eventually leveling the nearly completed Gateway warehouse which was at 2222 7th Avenue North.
The building was rebuilt.
Ten months later, the 1957 tornado rolled through and leveled the building once more.
That actually gave current employees of ArmCom some comfort.
“I feel safe knowing that its already happened twice so chances are it’s not going to happen again so it’s very interesting because it doesn’t happen often and to have two come through in the same place is unique for sure,” said employee Rachele Davis.
Apparently, the Gateway warehouse felt the same way, putting up this sign after the ’57 tornado.
NDSU Statistics Professor Rhonda Magel shares her thoughts regarding the sign. “It doesn’t work that way. I think the probability is pretty much the same the third year as it was the second year as it was the first year.”
Magel says it makes no difference if you’ve been his once or twice; the odds are the same.
So is another tornado overdue in Fargo after 59 years?
“A tornado is going to strike a place in Fargo on the average of about 1 in every 56 years,” Magel explains. “But that doesn’t mean in 56 years, ‘oops you’re going to get another tornado.’ No, that means on the average, so there could be two in one period of 56 years and zero the next and whatever.”
For Richard Ackerland, he’s already had two close encounters with tornadoes.
“The folks had a pretty healthy fear of tornadoes after what happened here and so when the tornado warning were out in ’57, dad got everybody in the car and all the kids and some of our cousins and he headed off into Minnesota to try and out run the storm because a lot of the houses up there on Golden Ridge didn’t have any basements and so when we did come back our house was flattened along with hundreds of other houses,” he said.
After the ’57 storm, the Ackerland Family had had enough of the north side.
“We ended up down in South Fargo, (laughing) down on 17th Street South. Get out of the tornado alley.”
The ’57 tornado was the strongest on the tornado scale, rated in EF-5.
Back in the 1890’s, another strong tornado also hit the north side of Fargo and did considerable damage.