Derecho storm impacts area

by Marianne Gasaway,

Michelle Watson and Lisa Riggin

“It was fast, hard and gone.”  

That’s the way Charlie Norris described the storm which tore off a major portion of the roof of his home Wednesday, Dec. 15.  Charlie and his wife, Louise, are waiting for official word from insurance adjusters, but they believe the rural home they built in 1979 will be declared a total loss.

The home is just one of the many properties damaged as an unseasonably strong and dynamic winter system brought severe thunderstorms and tornadoes to portions of northern Iowa last week.  The region also experienced widespread strong winds which resulted in numerous trees, structures and power lines being damaged.

To put things into perspective on how rare the event was, according to the National Weather Service it was the first time since record keeping began in 1986 that the NWS office had to issue both a severe thunderstorm and tornado warning during the month of December, with six and eight issued respectively.

In total, the weather event led to 189 warnings being issued across the central U.S., with 118 of those being for severe thunderstorms and the remaining 71 for tornadoes.

In the days following, the storm was categorized by the NWS as a derecho.

Charlie Norris said he is not sure what to call the storm which hit his home— maybe a small twister that didn’t reach the ground or straight line winds.  Whatever it was, it was like nothing he has ever seen before.

Charlie and his wife, Louise, were watching the news and paying close attention to weather developments, including keeping an eye on their own weather station with anemometer.  “When the power went out, the wind came up and Louise said, ‘let’s go to the basement,’” Charlie said.  “About the time we were hitting the landing, the roof was going.  I was not quite down the stairs when sheet rock and insulation began falling on us.  Seconds later, it was over.”

The Norris’ were not injured in any of the wreckage, but their home was hit hard.  In addition grain bins were severely damaged.  They have spent the last several days emptying belongs from their home of 42-years.

“We are truly blessed with a lot of friends, family and others  who have offered their help.  Members of a 4-H club showed up to help however they could and others brought food, goodies and their expertise.  

We are waiting to hear if the house is a total loss, but we think it is,” said Charlie.  “The whole roof lifted and three-quarters of it is gone.  There are also some foundation issues.  It’s hard to lose the house we have spent most of our married life in, but we have most of the keepsakes.  We’ll push it down and rebuild.”

Wind speeds at the airport, located just southwest of the Norris home, were recorded as high as 83 mph.

A few miles to the south, the Mike and Mary Baker farm lost at least 10 trees which line the former Highway 106.  The trees that were downed were all planted in 1977, but the maples, which are all over 100-years-old, survived because all their leaves were already gone, explained Mary.  In addition, one of the Bakers’ grain bins rolled across 106, dropping parts as it went.  Luckily they had cleared the yard of as many small items and sculptures as they could, but the larger metal sculptures were knocked over, dug themselves into the ground and froze in place. “Those won’t move till Spring!” Mary mused.  All in all, the couple feels lucky, but will miss the trees that shelterd Baker’s Corner from the highway for decades.

Scott Vestweber said his family property south of Clear Lake on 190th Street was also damaged.  He was upstairs and his mother on the main floor when the worst of the storm arrived.  Cheryl said it was the first time in her life when she felt she should have gone to the basement.  Several trees came down, but thankfully none on their home.  A metal building used as a shop was completely destroyed, as both of the latched doors were swung open and sent flying.

Nearby, Brent and Linda Scarrow on 180th Street had extensive damage to two outbuildings on their acreage.  One of the buildings was a new structure that houses their business, Bec Foods.

“It was a tense situation watching the roof of the building rising up and down and knowing that if it pulled loose it would come directly at the house,” said Brent.  He added that it is also frustrating knowing that contractors are already over booked and supplies are scarce.   “Replacement doors to close up the structure are not available until at least May,” said Brent.

“We are so very thankful that our home wasn’t damaged and that no one was hurt,” said Linda.  “All in all, it’s major damage, but it could have been much worse.”

Cliff and Laurie Sheakley, 408 Bedford St., have one of the most impressive Christmas displays in town.  It’s a highlight for Cliff to light up his whole house and yard every year for the community to enjoy.  So we can only imagine how nervous he was to think that all of his hard work could be destroyed in Wednesday night’s wind storm.

“I tried to prepare as much as I could before hand,” said Cliff.  “I staked down Santa’s workshop and boarded up the window and door.  But despite my efforts, all of my displays went down.  I was able to get them back up on Thursday, except for the angel, which needs to be rewired.”

The Clear Lake Police Department received 113 phone calls Wednesday night, with 48 calls for service, reported CLPD Captain Mike Colby.  The CLPD worked in tandem with the city’s Public Works Department to respond to emergency calls and clear debris where needed in town.  That included three sheds which were lifted over a fence at Truck Specialities and deposited on Highway 122

Public Works Director Jeremy Korenberg said advance notice of the storm’s potential helped them get ready.  Extra workers were called in to man lift stations and three members of the crew stayed at the city’s shop until 2 a.m. to be available for clearing trees from roads.  City crews helped Alliant Energy deal with areas which had debris in the road with poles and lines down.  One of the hardest hit areas was 27th Avenue South, which was closed to traffic until Monday afternoon.

According to Alliant Energy Spokesperson Melissa McCarville, in the Clear Lake area, 7,090 customers were without power at peak.

Korenberg said a dozen of the city’s decorative lights were out and one fell. 

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