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Iowa's severe weather stymies spring planting

At least 7 tornadoes confirmed Wednesday in the state

Floodwaters surround farm buildings March 18 near Luton in northwest Iowa. Many roads in the area remained closed in the aftermath of this month’s flooding. (Tim Hynds/ Sioux City Journal)
Floodwaters surround farm buildings March 18 near Luton in northwest Iowa. Many roads in the area remained closed in the aftermath of this month’s flooding. (Tim Hynds/ Sioux City Journal)
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Iowa’s unsettled skies have brought yet more accounts of severe storms — with seven confirmed tornadoes on Wednesday alone — and more bad news for farmers trying to get caught up with spring planting.

Wednesday’s storms resulted in an injury near Deep River in Poweshiek County, the National Weather Service said, when a tornado was reported to touch down and damage a farmstead, lift, then touch down again. The weather service said the storm was an EF1 with peak winds of 95 mph. It blew a dog into a field, but the weather service said it was not inured.

Although nine possible tornadoes were reported, the weather service said preliminary data confirms seven of them. Besides the one in Poweshiek County, there were three in Hardin County and one each in Sac, Pocahontas and Humboldt counties. The six outside Poweshiek County were rated EF0, the weakest rating.

Most of Wednesday’s tornadoes were “brief touchdowns in open areas with no damage,” the agency reported.

Several law enforcement agencies and trained storm spotters also told the weather service that a tornado touched down about 8:20 p.m. Wednesday between Kalona in Washington County and Frytown in Johnson County, though there were no reports of any damage.

A little earlier, the weather service received a report that a tornado had possibly touched down near Middle Amana in Iowa County.

In addition to the reports of tornadoes touching down, the weather service received seven reports of funnel clouds forming in the skies.

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In the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids areas, most reports sent Wednesday to the agency were of heavy rains, flash floods and hail.

A swath of southeast Iowa is under a flood warning until Friday.

“The combination of saturated soils, high river and creek levels, and heavy rains during the past few days is causing floodwaters to recede very slowly,” the weather service reported Thursday.

It said rural areas around communities including Burlington, Fort Madison, Keokuk, Fairfield, Mount Pleasant, Washington and Kalona, among others, were likely to see flooding.

Flooding on both sides of the state and the frequent rains have stymied farmers trying to plant their crops.

According to the latest Iowa Crop Progress and Condition report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there was only one day during the week of May 20 suitable for fieldwork.

As of last Sunday, Iowa corn growers had 76 percent of the expected crop planted — but that’s 10 days behind last year and two weeks behind the five-year average, the report said.

Less than a third of the expected soybean crop has been planted, two weeks behind last year and the five-year average, the report said.

“May’s last full week saw an active weather pattern across Iowa that brought continued unseasonable wetness and severe weather.” wrote state climatologist Justin Glisan. “Measurable rainfall was observed every day of the reporting period along with six days of at least one severe weather report. Average temperatures were unseasonably cool with northwestern Iowa experiencing the coolest conditions.”

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A Bloomberg survey of 10 traders and analysts indicates growers across the nation could file insurance claims for about 6 million corn acres they haven’t been able to sow, almost double the record in 2013.

Corn futures surged more than 20 percent to a three-year high over the past few weeks on fears farmers wouldn’t be able to get seeds in the ground ahead of crop-insurance deadlines. So-called prevented plant claims reached 3.6 million acres in 2013, according to the USDA.

Areas with the biggest risk of acreage loss this year area in central Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, and the region around the borders of South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska.

Such insurance claims are considered a last-ditch effort for farmers, who can receive about half of the value of their crop. Analysts in the Bloomberg survey cautioned estimates could still be skewed by the weather and the government’s market facilitation program, a $16 billion aid package to mitigate the impact of trade wars.

The forecast in Eastern Iowa calls for a dry Friday and Monday, but chances of rain otherwise through the middle of next week.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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