Friday, April 13, 2007

The Night The Tornadoes Came

A year ago tonight, the tornadoes came. That afternoon saw strong winds blowing up from the southwest, which became stronger as the day progressed, and more oppressive. The sky took on a grey, ground glass appearance, and soon low scud clouds streamed across the horizon, while the winds swirled around the corner of our house, jangling the wind chimes in warning. The weather radar showed a line of storms far to our northwest that were racing towards us, exploding in size into large red blobs, lining up like rumbling freight cars to plunge into Johnson county in the darkness. The tornado sirens went off all around us, and would wail for most of that evening. The first storm crashed into us, with large hailstones beating on the roof and deck. As this storm abated, just to our south in Iowa City, numerous emergency vehicle sirens could be heard, adding their din to the moaning of the tornado sirens.
Ominously, rather than cooling off as it usually does after a hailstorm, it became warmer and more humid; then the second storm hit, with even larger hail, and even stronger winds that bent 75 foot tall trees back and forth like saplings, backlit by constant lightning, and with thunder that felt as if it was making the whole house shake. After this storm, more sirens joined in the frightening chorus of alarm towards our south. At least seven, and perhaps as many as twelve tornadoes hit Johnson county that night, with the worst tearing diagonally across the heart of Iowa City with 150 mile an hour winds. Quite miraculously, nobody was killed, in this university town filled with curious and risk-taking young people. The Dairy Queen down by the river was totally demolished, with its walls and roof blown into the river, and its iconic neon ice cream cone sign never found, but the customers and staff inside all walked out without a scratch; the Dairy Queen had been there over fifty years, and had a basement where back then they used to store the milk to keep it cool. There is a lot of luck involved in these things... how many Dairy Queens have a basement?
Iowa City is still rebuilding; oddly enough it was refused federal disaster aid, because the city and its citizens were responsible and had insured themselves. So, it has been a slow process of recovery; trees have been planted, houses repaired, lives put back in order. However, for many years April 13th will still be the night the tornadoes came.
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Sounds like a very scary night.
Fantastic photos! And a great write up, Don. You really got the "feel" of what it's like to ride out a bad storm with your story. Listening to the news right now about tornadoes in MS. After this spring I wouldn't be surprised to see a stormy summer follow.
Kathy & Sally,
It was a sad night for Iowa City... a LOT of things were lost. For us, just hail and wind.
Wow... even the picture convey the chaos. How sad and scary!
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