Tornado Hits Rolfe and Bradgate
10 pm Friday, May 21, 2004
by Helen D. Gunderson, Gazette editor

The map is from the Weather Underground web site at 22:52 CDT on May 21, 2004.

Late this afternoon, I was listening to WOI Radio while driving back from Ames to my home in Gilbert just a few miles north of Ames. There was a tornado warning for the southern part of Palo Alto County and the northern part of Pocahontas County.

This evening, the phone rang. Sylvia Olson, who works for the Pocahontas Record-Democrat and is a close friend, said that she had heard that a tornado had caused damage in Rolfe and wiped out the town of Bradgate. Apparently, the tornado was a half mile wide and traveled a distance of 15 miles. Also, law enforcement officers were preventing people from entering the area.

I called my parents' home and talked with my sister, Clara Hoover (RHS class of 1960). She and my father (Deane Gunderson, RHS 1935) had returned home from appointments in Ames. My mother Marion Gunderson is a resident at the Rolfe Care Center.

Clara said that she and Dad had returned home via Clare, northwest of Fort Dodge. When they drove west of the small burg along a county road, they could see the storm to the north as it moved across the landscape. As Clara and Dad approached the Rolfe area, they saw emergency vehicles. At the Gunderson farm, which is three miles southwest of Rolfe, they discovered damage. The small, red, wooden shed the oldest building on the farm and that year's ago had been my father's shop had collapsed. There was some damage to the siding of the house, a few windows were broken, and many trees had been uprooted. Clara also said that the seed warehouse at the Mick and Sue Reigelsberger farm, where they and Mick's parents, Joe and Norine Reigelsberger, have a Pioneer dealership, was damaged. Mick is a 1980 graduate of Rolfe. Clara also said that many grain bins in the area between my folks' farm and town had been damaged.

Next, I spoke to Geri DeWall of rural Pocahontas. Her son Jeff  farms some of my land. Geri and Jeff live about nine miles southwest of Rolfe. She said they had small hail that lasted only for a short time. She said, however, that her grandson, Mitch Pattee, is a close friend of Nate Behrendsen. Mitch and Nate graduated from the Pocahontas Area Community High School last Sunday. Nate is the son of Joni Zeman Behrendsen (RHS 1970) and Mike Behrendsen (RHS 1961), who live southeast of Rolfe. Mitch and Nate had spoken on the phone, and Nate reported that there was damage to the Behrendsen farm buildings and that windows had been blown out of their home and there was extensive damage to the roof. My sister Clara had reported similar information.

I then spoke by phone with my brother Charles Gunderson (RHS class of 1962), who lives in Rolfe. His report about the Gunderson farm was similar to Clara's. He said the seed warehouse at the Reigelsberger farm had been completely destroyed but that the bags of corn in it were still intact. He added that a grain bin had been blown 100 feet off of its foundation and that debris from the bin was strewn across the field. A power line was down at the Jack and Karen DeWolf farm just a mile southwest of Rolfe. Jack is a 1956 graduate of Rolfe.

His report about Joni and Mike Behrendsen's farm was similar to what I heard from Clara and the DeWall family. Charles added that Joni and Mike apparently had been in the house and were taken to the hospital after the storm.

Charles said that the most severe damage he knew of in Rolfe was to trees in the old section of the Clinton-Garfield cemetery and at the golf course. Both are south of town. I asked about the path of the storm. Charles wasn't certain, but thought it had come out of the southwest, circled around the east part of Rolfe, then headed toward Bradgate. He had not toured all of Rolfe and did not know what the extent of damage was on the east side of town.

WHO-TV out of Des Moines reported that the tornado had started in Rolfe and that a few homes had been damaged and five people injured. WHO also reported that 90 percent of the 53 homes in Bradgate had been destroyed or heavily damaged. Ten out of the 100 residents had been injured. The Pro Cooperative grain elevator was still standing. Rain continues to fall in Bradgate, exacerbating the crisis.

This is only a sketchy report, and I apologize, but I thought Rolfe loyalists would want to know some news as soon as possible. I'll probably go to Rolfe tomorrow to take some photographs and find out more about what has happened and how the community is responding. If any of you readers have facts, anecdotal information, or photographs of the storm or the damage, please forward them to us so that we can post them. Thanks.

The Weather Underground website, which had these notes on the page of Rolfe weather information.

05/21/2004 0646 PM
1 miles S of Rolfe, Pocahontas County.
Hail 0.75 inch, reported by storm chaser.
Relayed via amateur radio.

05/21/2004 0610 PM
Rolfe, Pocahontas County.
Tornado, reported by law enforcement.
Three tornadoes. Numerous injuries. Considerable property damage.

05/21/2004 0622 PM
2 miles E of Rolfe, Pocahontas County.
Tornado, reported by amateur radio.

05/21/2004 0610 PM
1 miles E of Rolfe, Pocahontas County.
Tornado, reported by law enforcement.
Relayed via amateur radio.

Statement as of 9:10 PM CDT on May 20, 2004

The following notes were on the page of weather information about Bradgate.

Tornadoes hit the northern half of Iowa

The most significant tornado outbreak of the year occurred today across North central Iowa. Several tornadoes touched down with the most significant damage in Pocahontas and Humboldt counties. A National Weather Service damage survey team will be traveling to Humboldt and Pocahontas counties Saturday morning. An f scale determination will be done following the survey and a summary will be released Saturday afternoon.

Here is a best estimate of the tornado occurrences and reported damage. It appears there were 5 tornadoes.

228 PM tornado 2 west of Holland... Grundy County no damage reported.

315 PM tornado 10 west of Grundy Center... Grundy County no damage reported.

321 PM tornado 3 South of Waterloo... Black Hawk County. No damage reported.

610 PM tornado Rolfe... Pocahontas County. Major damage to the town...damage will be surveyed by NWS Saturday.

623 PM same tornado that caused damage in Rolfe hit Bradgate...Humboldt County. Major damage to the town... damage will be surveyed by NWS Saturday.

730 PM tornado (unconfirmed) northwest of Clarion in Wright County. No damage.

Jeff Johnson ...wcm Des Moines

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