IOWA DERECHO 2020

Other derechos have raked Iowa over the years

Commonalities: Trees down, power out, costly cleanup

Workers put a tarp on the roof of one of the homes damaged in Vinton by the July 11, 2011, derecho. The city lost three-
Workers put a tarp on the roof of one of the homes damaged in Vinton by the July 11, 2011, derecho. The city lost three-quarters of its trees in the storm. (The Gazette)
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Though most of us hadn’t heard the word “derecho” before Aug. 10, earlier hurricane-like, straight-line winds have caused millions of dollars in damage in Iowa at least five times since 1965.

None of the storms were of the scale of the derecho that hammered Iowa this year, but the 1965 windstorm in Cedar Rapids was described, at the time, as “the worst in Cedar Rapids history.”

1965: ‘Astronomical’ storm hits Cedar Rapids

The windstorm that hit Cedar Rapids and other cities on Wednesday, May 26, 1965, arrived just as the city was beginning to lose elms to Dutch elm disease.

Seventeen people were injured.

A major problem in 1965, as in 2020, was the loss of telephone service and power.

“Hundreds of workers, from Cedar Rapids and other cities throughout the state labored Thursday at the massive chore of cleaning up and repairing damage caused by Wednesday morning’s windstorm, the worst in Cedar Rapids history,” The Gazette reported.

Utility companies brought in repair crews to restore phone and electrical service.

An estimated 1,000 trees were destroyed — half of them elms. City streets were blocked, traffic lights were knocked out.

“I have no idea how much damage there is,” Mayor Bob Johnson said, “but it will be an astronomical figure.”

Four hundred workers worked to remove the trees and debris, starting work within an hour after the storm hit, only to be interrupted when another storm moved through.

The cleanup was considered finished in two weeks.

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1986: ‘Bow’ shape storm crosses Midwest

Supercells formed in South Dakota on Monday afternoon, July 28, 1986, changing into a massive bow-shaped derecho as it moved into northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The top half of the bow hit Des Moines about 10:15 p.m. with winds in excess of 80 mph. Eighteen piggyback rail cars were blown off a bridge near Boone, with 16 cars falling into the Des Moines River.

The bottom of the bow, with 100 mph winds, raced through northeast Missouri and western Illinois, finally diminishing over St. Louis around 3:30 a.m. July 29.

1989: Dark weekend in Iowa

On Saturday, Aug. 5, 1989, an intense storm identified as a derecho by the National Weather Service blew into western Iowa at about 5 a.m. with winds gusting to 85 mph.

It maintained that intensity across the state until it reached the Mississippi River early that afternoon.

Two-thirds of Cedar Rapids was without power for the weekend. All but 500 customers had their power back by Monday.

Iowa Electric Light & Power handled 6,400 calls about a loss in service in the 12 hours between 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The volume shattered the previous record of 3,200 calls.

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1998: 100 Iowans injured

Another derecho caused about $150 million in damage in Des Moines and south of Iowa City on Sunday, June 29, 1998.

An unofficial measurement put the wind speed at 123 mph near Washington, Iowa.

More than 100 people were injured in the storm.

2011: Vinton hit hard

Another derecho cut a 20-mile-wide path between Story and Linn counties on Monday, July 11, 2011, leveling 100,000 acres of corn, knocking out power and heavily damaging the city of Vinton in Benton County and Tama County.

Vinton lost three-quarters of its trees in the storm, from winds that were clocked above 130 mph.

Comments: d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

Mary Sharp of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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