December 18, 2014

Big Four Classic extended 2 years

An event that brings four of the state’s top men’s college basketball teams to Des Moines has been extended. The so-called Big Four Classic involves Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and Drake. The four schools have agreed to a two-year extension of the event held at Wells Fargo Arena.

This Saturday will mark the third year of the original four year contract. Saturday’s first game at 4 p.m. will feature Iowa State against Drake, with Iowa and UNI squaring off in the nightcap at 6:30. For the first time in the event’s history, the Big Four Classic is sold-out as more than 15,100 fans are expected to attend.

The contract extension means the event in Des Moines will be held at least three more years.

Deep sea creatures find a home in a Des Moines school (video)

Nautilus at the Des Moines Schools Central Campus.

Nautilus at the Des Moines Schools Central Campus.

Some animals that live deep in the South Pacific Ocean have a new home in Iowa. The Des Moines Schools Central Campus aquarium sciences program recently received 5 nautiluses from a fish supplier in Japan.

Des Moines Schools marine biology teacher Greg Barord says scientists are concerned with the declining populations of nautilus resulting from overfishing.

“They’re one of the oldest animals on the planet. Their ancestors can be traced back about 500 million years,” Barord said. The shelled creatures live about 2,000 feet below sea level.

“We keep them in a dark aquarium because they normally don’t see sunlight,” Barord said. “They don’t have very good eyes, but you can fish them pretty easily. They live so deep, but you can catch them very easily, which is why we’re interested in their conservation — to try and save them.”

The five nautiluses shipped to Des Moines are only 3 to 5 years old and are about 5 inches in diameter. The creatures are being fished for their shells. According to Barord, the large shell from a 50-year-old nautilus is sold in shops around Australia and the Philippines for up to $100. It’s highly unusual for a high school in the U.S. to obtain the animals.

“Considering there are only a handful of university-level research places in the world that work with nautilus, this is one-of-a-kind,” Barord said. “I can’t imagine there are any other high schools working with nautiluses or having this opportunity. I’m sure if a nautilus has ever stepped foot in Iowa.” Barord was quick to correct himself — nautilus don’t have feet. Instead, they have up to 90 tentacles.


Iowa ranked in top 10 for time spent volunteering

Volunteers package Meals from the Heartland.

Volunteers package Meals from the Heartland.

A new federal report ranks Iowa 7th in the country for the percentage of residents who spend time volunteering.

Wendy Spencer is CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency in charge of volunteering and service. She notes the most popular volunteer activity in Iowa involves donating food or preparing meals for the needy. That’s also the case for most other states.

“In Iowa, it’s 32-percent, so that’s very high and that’s one of the top ways people can help,” Spencer says. “I think, in general, Americans don’t like the idea of anyone going hungry.” Utah is once again ranked as the top state for volunteerism. Idaho, Minnesota, Kansas, Wisconsin and Nebraska round out the top six, followed by Iowa.

Spencer says there are a number of reasons why states with a lot rural communities tend to have higher volunteer rates. “For example, low commute times…so, it’s easier to get around. There are higher densities of nonprofits, higher education levels, and high levels of home ownership — that could indicate to us that people are settled in to their community and they really care. They want to make sure their community is strong and vibrant and they want to help,” Spencer says.

The report states slightly more than 1 in 3 Iowans (34.7%) volunteered in 2013. The study also calculated the economic value of those volunteers.  “Of the nearly 800,000 volunteers serving statewide, the value of that is $1.5 billion in economic value to the charities, nonprofits and faith organizations,” Spencer said. Nationally, one in four Americans volunteered last year.

The report found those between the ages of 35-44 had the highest volunteer rate, while those over the age of 65 spent the most time volunteering.



White Christmas is likely to be just a dream in Iowa this year

The Christmas tree outside the state capitol.

The Christmas tree outside the state capitol.

The prospects for a white Christmas in Iowa appear to be pretty slim. National Weather Service Meteorologist Kenny Podrazik says the generally accepted definition of a “White Christmas” is at least one inch of snow on the ground on the morning of December 25. “You know, there may be a little bit of snow tonight across northern Iowa, but we going to be pretty hard pressed to get an inch out of that,” Podrazik said.

In addition, even if snow does fly, temperatures will be too warm for the snow to stick through Christmas. According to Podrazik, this will likely be Iowa’s first Christmas since 2006 without any snow on the ground. Five years ago, Iowa had one of its snowiest Christmas days ever. “The 2009 Christmas is tied with 1895 with 8 inches of snow on the ground,” Podrazik said.

On Christmas day in 2009, Des Moines received 3.4 inches of snow. “That ranks third as the snowiest (Christmas) day in Des Moines,” Podrazik said. “The top year was 1909 with 4.1 inches and 1895 was 3.5 inches.” The deepest snow cover in Des Moines on Christmas morning, 17 inches, occurred in 1961. The coldest temperature recorded on Christmas day was 16-below-zero in 1879.

That warmest temperature in Des Moines on Christmas day, 58 degrees, came in 1936.


Story County releases information on arrest of Webster City wrestling coaches

Ted Larson

Ted Larson

The Story County Sheriff’s Office has released more information about the weekend arrests of two Webster City High School wrestling coaches. Fifty-year-old Ted Larson and 52-year-old Terry Nessa are facing felony charges after deputies say they drove a Webster City School District vehicle to a home near McCallsburg in rural Story County, broke into the home and assaulted the home’s owner.

A news release issued today states the men went to the home Saturday night looking for Larson’s wife, 44-year-old Tara Larson, and she was at the home. Deputies said the home owner, 45-year-old Lyndal Olson, had severe lacerations over both eyes and was taken to a hospital. In addition to assaulting Olson, Larson and Nessa allegedly damaged property in the home, vandalized two of Olson’s vehicles and broke out windows in a barn.

Ted Larson is the head wrestling coach at Webster City High School and serves as the district’s director of transportation. Nessa is a volunteer assistant coach. Both men were still being held in the Story County Jail this morning on $40,000 bond. Webster City Schools Superintendent Mike Sherwood says Larson has been placed on administrative leave.


Pet adoption experts warn against pets as Christmas gifts

Animal shelters across the state are full of pets who would love to be placed in a new home for the holidays, but leaders of those shelters are discouraging Iowans from giving pets as gifts. Liz Ford, supervisor of the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center, says pets often live for 10 years or more.

“So, that’s a commitment of a long period of time for whoever needs to be responsible in that household for that pet,” Ford says. “It’s not something to be taken lightly. When you give someone a pet, you’re giving them a big responsibility.” Ford says a companion animal should be chosen by the person who will be responsible for it. “What you’re looking at is your lifestyle and trying to make the best match for you and how your days are planned and the kinds of things you like to do, as far as what type of pet, what temperament, exercise needs, and all of those things,” Ford says.

“So, really the person who will be primarily responsible for the pet should be the person choosing that pet, they’re going to have to live with it for many, many years.” Tom Colvin, executive director of the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, says most shelters offer gift certificates – which would be a better gift than giving a live animal. “So, then somebody can come out at their leisure and select just the right pet,” Colvin says. In addition, Colvin encourages parents to take their children to an animal shelter to teach them about compassion and what shelters do.


Five containers for Iowa meth lab cleanup placed in Iowa

The containers are 7’x7’x9’ and are under 24/7 supervision and in locked and secured areas

The containers are 7’x7’x9’ and are under 24/7 supervision and in locked and secured areas

Five massive, metal containers are being placed around the state to help authorities safely clean up meth lab sites. The containers, which have an exhaust system, will be located in areas near Montrose, Clinton, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Council Bluffs.

Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Dan Stepleton will manage the three eastern Iowa containers, which are all being provided by the federal government. He says the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is also paying for small trailers at each site which will be used to haul the hazard materials from the meth lab site to the container. “Then, when the container’s full, we’ll call the DEA and they’ll have someone come and empty the container. The whole bill is paid for by DEA,” Stepleton said.

In addition to making the cleanup of a meth lab less dangerous, the containers will serve as a big cost saver. According to Stepleton, the new containers will save “hundreds of thousands” of local and state tax dollars a year. Previously, local and state agencies had to hire a chemical contractor for the cleanup process.

Law enforcement officers in Iowa discover up to 300 meth labs a year with each one costing around $5,000 to clean up. The five containers are being placed in areas where authorities respond to the highest number of meth labs. Officials hope to install more containers around the state in the future.