Mammoth elm gives up likely tornado souvenir

Some 45-feet in the air with his tree-trimming bucket, John Carlson gets set to lop off the branch with an in-grown chunk of metal.
Tom Byrne concluded that the tree limb had about 49 rings, making it possible that the metal was blown into the tree crotch by the 1968 Tracy Tornado.

By Seth Schmidt

A behemoth elm tree that shaded the corner of Fourth and Harvey streets for generations, fell to the rasping snarl of John Carlson’s chain saw last week.
The 70-foot elm had been dead since last summer, a victim of Dutch elm disease. But the tree had one last legacy to leave: likely debris from the Tracy Tornado of June 13, 1968.
About 45-feet up in the air, imbedded in a 10-inch tree crotch, a four-feet strip of metal was noticed. By the looks of the branch, the tree branch had been growing around the metal for a long time.
After lopping off the metal-infused limb, Carlson brought it into his bucket and took it to the ground for a hand-off to his assistant, Tom Byrne.
Bryne started counting the limb’s rings to determine its age. He stopped after reaching 40.
“It could be!” he said excitedly. “I’ve counted 40 rings and I haven’t got to the small outside rings. It could easily be 49-years-old.”
A 49-year-old dating would be evidence that the metal strip had been blow into the tree by the Tracy Tornado.
The elm stood on the edge of the tornado’s path. Less than a half-block further west, houses were obliterated by the tornado. An elementary school wrecked by the tornado was a block away.
“What else could it be?” besides debris from the tornado, Byrne asked.
The tree limb was given to the Wheels Across the Prairie Museum.
The EF-5 Tracy Tornado destroyed or damaged more than 160 houses and killed nine people. The storm path was about a block and a half wide, striking first on the southwest edge of town and proceeding northeasterly. After crossing the railroad yards near Fifth and South streets, the twister left a path of destruction between Sixth and Fourth streets before exiting the town near Swift Lake Park.

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.