Damage assessment teams are surveying the widespread destruction caused by a series of powerful tornadoes that ripped across northwest Iowa on Saturday night. State officials say damage is expected to easily reach into the millions of dollars.
Governor Branstad has made emergency declarations for Monona and Pocahontas counties, so state resources can be used as communities begin the clean-up work
Jeff Johnson, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service, says there were at least seven confirmed tornadoes in the storms, perhaps several more. Johnson has been carefully tracing the damage the twisters caused in several communities.
“My team was in Sac County and we surveyed four tornadoes in Sac County, which is remarkable, in fact, a couple of them moved over the same area at different times,” Johnson says. “Some of these poor folks up there got hit twice in the same evening by two different tornadoes which were strong.”
Johnson says he was recalling the old adage about how lightning never strikes the same place twice, but he’s covered one other case a few years ago where two tornadoes hit the same Warren County home in a single night. The worst damage from Saturday’s storms is reported in western Iowa’s Monona County, where the town of Mapleton reports more than half of its homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.
It’s estimated more than 400 of Mapleton’s 1,200 residents have been displaced. Johnson says his damage assessment team was assigned to an area farther to the northeast. “The strongest one we saw was just west of Early about five miles to a farmstead,” Johnson says. “It had an enhanced Fujita scale rating of EF3, top wind speeds approximately 140 miles an hour.”
Another team surveyed a tornado from the same storm system that hit in Pocahontas County, west of the town of Pocahontas, that also was an EF-3 but with winds closer to 160 miles an hour. While several Iowans were hurt in the violent storms, many by flying glass and other debris, there were no deaths. Johnson says it’s notable that the most serious reported injury from this bout of bad weather was a broken leg.
“There were some injuries and we did talk to some witnesses on the ground, the poor folks that were hit,” Johnson says. “Quite often, their story was that either they weren’t home or they had enough warning to get to the basement and shelter before the storm actually hit their home. It’s very fortunate that no one was killed and we’re very thankful for that.”
Last week, the National Weather Service offices in Iowa held Severe Weather Awareness Week, which featured a host of refresher information and a statewide tornado drill on Wednesday. When the sirens sounded this weekend, Johnson says it’s fortunate that so many people heeded the tornado warnings as they were issued.
“It looks like people had adequate warnings,” Johnson says. “The key to the tornado warning is that once you hear the warning, people still sometimes need to have a personal threat before they take action. In this case, there was enough evidence of tornadoes coming into town or coming towards them so they took shelter quickly enough and it’s a good thing.”
Find much more information about the weekend tornadoes and other weather facts at: www.weather.gov/dmx
Photos provided by the Iowa National Guard.