9 possible tornadoes tallied in eastern Iowa Friday from 'strong and unusual storm system'

At least nine possible tornadoes were spotted across Iowa Friday as storms with hail and heavy winds battered the eastern portion of the state.

The National Weather Service based in the Quad Cities has confirmed one EF2 tornado touched down in Johnson County Friday near Hills. Johnson County Emergency Management Coordinator Dave Wilson said there may have been up to three tornadoes that hit the county.

Preliminary NWS reports show the other possible tornadoes were spotted mostly in the southeast portion of the state. Here's a list of the possible sightings:

  • North of Agency in Wapello County

  • Southeast of Fremont in Wapello County

  • Southeast of Lancaster in Keokuk County

  • Southwest of Malcom in Poweshiek County

  • Southeast of Malcolm in Poweshiek County

  • West of Talleyrand in Keokuk County

  • Wellman in Washington County

  • Northeast of Wellman in Washington County

Dylan Dodson, a meteorologist for NWS in Des Moines, said these reports are based on information provided by residents nearby and still need to be confirmed through further analysis. There also may be more tornadoes not yet reported.

David Cousins of the NWS in the Quad Cities said the office received damage reports stretching from Ottumwa all the way up to Coralville and Iowa City.

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"This is a really strong and unusual storm system for our area for late March, early April," Cousins said.

He said the NWS in the Quad Cities issued 56 tornado warnings starting Friday afternoon through the evening, which he described as an unusually high volume.

Dodson and Cousins said the NWS is sending out crews today across the affected regions of the state to assess damage and further confirm the number of tornadoes.

"I think we dodged a bullet," Johnson County emergency coordinator says

Sirens blared across Johnson County Friday, warning residents of potential tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, Wilson said. Radars clocked over 70 mph winds and residents braced for potential golf ball-sized hail. Wilson believes up to three tornadoes may have touched down in the county.

The tornadoes first were sighted in the southwest corner of the county, in Frytown, and made their way up through the west side of Hills, he said.

In Hills, "about a six-block-wide area between Highway 218 and the railroad tracks" sustained notable damage, he said. The area is made up of apartment buildings, a few individual residences and commercial storage sheds, he said.

From there, the storm moved to the west of Iowa City over the city's landfill and ended up in Coralville, where a portion of four blocks stretching from Highway 6 to Boston Way sustained damage, he said. The storm then "hopped up" to Solon, Wilson said, where it damaged a new subdivision under construction and took the roof off a local hardware store and Mexican restaurant. Wilson reported "scattered damage" throughout smaller towns and rural areas in the county.

Local power companies helped restore power to the majority of buildings, and the county was able to reopen all roadways by midnight Friday, Wilson said. As if 2:30 p.m, fewer than 300 homes in Johnson County were without power.

The county helped shelter 11 individuals following the storm: Eight stayed at the Red Cross-run shelter at the Coralville Recreation Center, and three stayed in an off-site location for "medical special needs," Wilson said. All three at the off-site location had departed as of 8:30 a.m.

Across the county, only two minor injuries were reported, he said, and there were no fatalities or reports of anyone trapped. Officials responded to 118 calls for service as of 8 a.m. Saturday morning, including 14 for public assistance, six for a gas line break, five for rescue and 24 for road hazards, according to data provided by Wilson.

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Wilson said he has worked in emergency management services for more than two decades, and in that time has led Johnson County through floods, derechos and tornados. This time, he said, "I think we dodged a bullet."

"Lucky or fortunate," he said, "either one of those words are the right words."

Francesca Block is a breaking news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Reach her at FBlock@registermedia.com or on Twitter at @francescablock3.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Tornado sightings, damage reports from severe storms in Iowa Friday