Tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings blared through the afternoon and evening across the Plains on Wednesday, leaving at least a few confirmed twisters in Iowa, fires in Kansas and damage across the region.
There were 118 severe thunderstorm and 71 tornado warnings across Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa Wednesday night, the National Weather Service said. One person in Iowa was confirmed dead after the storm.
The Des Moines Register followed the storm throughout Wednesday and continued to follow it Thursday.
Editor’s note: The Des Moines Register is making this severe weather story free for everyone to read as a public service. We can’t continue to do this important work without your support. If you don’t already, please subscribe today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Subscribe.
Storm updates from Thursday, Dec. 16
At least five confirmed tornados so far, including two that travelled 26 miles each
7:30 p.m. As Iowans continue to asses the damage created by a storm said to be "one of a kind" across the Plains on Wednesday, weather officials here have confirmed at least five tornados hit the state.
Three of those tornado had 24 to nearly 27 mile paths, according to the National Weather Service in Des Moines.
From 4:50 p.m. to 5:08 p.m. on Wednesday, an EF-2 tornado travelled 26.1 miles "from southwest of Atlantic to between Extra and Hamlin," the agency tweeted Thursday.
From 5:17 p.m. to 5:31 p.m., another EF-2 tornado travelled 24 miles from southwest of Bayard and into the town.
And from 5:43 p.m. to 6:01 p.m., an EF-2 tornado travelled 26.7 miles from around Paton, to northwest of Harcourt, and then ended west of Duncombe, according to the weather service.
Estimated peak winds for these three tornados ranged from 115 mph to 120 mph.
A fourth EF-2 tornado struck near Springbrook State Park, travelled 17.4 miles northwest of Bagley, and ended south of Jefferson.
The weather service is still analyzing a fifth tornado that travelled through southeastern Sac County and ended near Lytton.
The agency stated that as it continues to assess damages, more tornadoes are likely to be confirmed.
These are only tornadoes confirmed in the National Weather Service's Des Moines branch coverage area. The branch does not asses the damages in the whole state — they have help from other branches in La Crosse, Wisconsin; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; the Quad Cities; and Omaha, Nebraska.
Earlier today, the weather service in La Crosse confirmed an EF-1 tornado in Rudd.
Now, 49 counties under Gov. Kim Reynolds' disaster proclamation
5:12 p.m. Gov. Kim Reynolds added six more counties to her disaster proclamation Thursday evening.
The newly added counties are: Emmet, Franklin, Humboldt, Palo Alto, Pocahontas, and Woodbury.
Earlier Thursday she included 43 counties in the proclamation.
The earlier counties were: Allamakee, Appanoose, Audubon, Bremer, Buena Vista, Butler, Calhoun, Cass, Cerro Gordo, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Davis, Fayette, Floyd, Greene, Guthrie, Hamilton, Hancock, Hardin, Harrison, Howard, Ida, Kossuth, Lucas, Madison, Marshall, Mills, Mitchell, Monroe, Montgomery, O'Brien, Page, Pottawattamie, Ringgold, Sac, Shelby, Union, Washington, Webster, Winnebago, Winneshiek, Wright, and Worth.
"The governor's proclamation allows state resources to be utilized to respond to and recover from the effects of this severe weather," the news release from the governor's office said.
Rudd library, historical society, homes in tatters
Naig: Buildings damaged but storm would have been worse earlier in the season
3:30 p.m. Mike Naig, Iowa’s agriculture secretary, said the state's getting “numerous reports” that livestock facilities, grain bins, barns and machine sheds were damaged in Wednesday night’s storm.
“We don't have the full picture just yet,” Naig said Thursday, “but in those areas that had tornadoes, we’re hearing about some pretty extensive damage to ag buildings.”
Iowa is home to millions of chickens, pigs, turkeys and cattle, but Naig said the state agency hasn’t received reports that livestock were lost. “We’re hearing mostly that roofs have been torn from buildings, so those animals may need to be moved” to different locations, he said.
Naig said the farm damage would have been much worse had the storm hit the state late in the growing season as happened last year. The Aug. 10 derecho swept through the middle third of Iowa, damaging millions of acres of corn and soybeans. Many farmers had to plow under downed corn that couldn’t be harvested.
“It would have been a nightmare,” if Wednesday’s storm to have hit “in the second half of the growing season,” said Naig, who was traveling to northwest Iowa Thursday.
“Where you see damage, it’s significant,” he said. “There are farms that have taken direct hits.”
Unlike last year’s derecho, which crumpled massive grain storage bins, Naig said he’s seen mostly damage to the top of grain bins. The reason for the difference, he believes, is that Iowa’s grain bins are filled with corn and soybeans, giving them structural support to withstand record-breaking winds. They were mostly empty in August, Naig said.
NWS confirms tornado hits Rudd
1:50 p.m. The National Weather Service confirmed an EF1 tornado hit Rudd, Iowa Wednesday. EF1 tornadoes have wind speeds between 73 and 112 mph. More details will be released later Thursday or Friday, according to the NWS.
There was extensive damage to buildings and vehicles in Rudd, according to videos posted to social media. Stu Ireland, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wisconsin, said the worst of the damage occurred to a church on the northeast side of town and to a library.
The Rudd Rockford Marble Rock Community School District canceled classes Thursday to help people in need. Showers were available at the school, breakfast and lunch was also served there. Rudd school district staff members also shuttled people to Rudd to help clean up.
"We feel that it is best to shuttle people to Rudd so there isn't so many vehicles driving around the town," the district posted on Facebook.
There were 118 severe thunderstorm and 71 tornado warnings across Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa Wednesday night.
Disaster proclamation issued for 43 Iowa counties
11:00 a.m. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for 43 counties after Wednesday's storm. Reynolds' proclamation releases state resources which can use used to recover from the effects of severe weather. Residents of impacted counties are being asked to report damage to state and local officials online.
The counties are: Allamakee, Appanoose, Audubon, Bremer, Buena Vista, Butler, Calhoun, Cass, Cerro Gordo, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Davis, Fayette, Floyd, Greene, Guthrie, Hamilton, Hancock, Hardin, Harrison, Howard, Ida, Kossuth, Lucas, Madison, Marshall, Mills, Mitchell, Monroe, Montgomery, O'Brien, Page, Pottawattamie, Ringgold, Sac, Shelby, Union, Washington, Webster, Winnebago, Winneshiek, Wright, and Worth.
Power being restored quickly, despite 'harrowing night'
11 a.m. Iowa utility workers are restoring power to about 40,200 customers without electricity Thursday as quickly as possible.
“It was a harrowing night,” said Tina Hoffman, a spokeswoman for MidAmerican Energy, the Des Moines power provider.
Hoffman said crews worked all night in high winds to restore power to customers. By 10 a.m., about 50,000 MidAmerican customers who had lost power, had electricity again. The utility officials estimated most families would have power restored by midnight Thursday.
By mid-morning, about 11,800 MidAmerican customers were still without power.
A small number of customers, likely in Fort Dodge or Council Bluffs, where outages were high, might not be reconnected until Saturday.
The Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives said about 22,000 homes lost power during the storm. By mid-morning, all but about 7,200 had electricity restored.
Corn Belt Power Cooperative, which generates power and distributes it to other cooperatives, said nine of 159 substations were without power and it was working to repair about 180 damaged power poles.
The Humboldt generation and transmission co-op provides power to a large portion of north central Iowa.
“We have crews scattered across our service territory assessing and fixing trouble areas,” said Corn Belt spokesman Ryan Cornelius in an email.
One challenge for cooperatives and large utilities face was the size of the storm, officials said.
“This storm moved across the entire state, so there was widespread damage to deal with,” Hoffman said.
— Bryon Houlgrave (@bryonhoulgrave) December 16, 2021
Des Moines avoids large-scale damage, thanks in part to leafless trees, the 2020 derecho taking out weak trees
10:15 a.m. As Des Moines Public Works Director Jonathan Gano settled into his office at 216 SE 5th St. just before 7 a.m. Thursday workers in orange reflective vests scurried into trucks and even a cherry picker.
Gano had thought on Wednesday that Thursday was going be one of the department’s busiest days. Instead, his crews were responding to just 17 calls about overnight damage scattered throughout the city. For Des Moines at least, Wednesday’s storm ended up being an annoyance and a “weird way to start the winter.”
Most summer storms typically generate about 100 calls for downed tree limbs and downed trees, Gano said. He anticipated at least a few more calls coming in once the sun rose.
“It’s a pretty small number,” Gano said. “We’re well under the threshold for what I would consider to be a serious summer storm."
Two key things helped Des Moines avoid large-scale damage from this storm, Gano said. Because of the season, there were few leaves on trees. When trees are fully-leafed out, as they were during the August 2020 derecho, it creates more surface area for the wind to grab onto and pull trees down, he said.
“That takes down a lot of the ability for the wind to do damage,” Gano said. “It’s like holding up a sheet of cardboard and one with holes in it.”
The derecho also cleared a lot of the city’s weakest trees and weak limbs, he said. During the derecho the city cleaned up almost 250,000 cubic yards of material, he said.
“So that material just isn’t there,” Gano said.
Thousands of Iowans without power
9:20 a.m. Weather and utility officials had warned that the storm, which blasted high winds across Iowa for hours, had the potential to take out utility polls and power.
On Thursday, it was clear the potential was realized as thousands of Iowans were without power.
Officials state's major power providers had said Wednesday afternoon that they had prepared for such damage and would work "in an all-hands-on-deck mode" to get power back.
— Bryon Houlgrave (@bryonhoulgrave) December 16, 2021
Morning brings fuller look at damages in Jefferson
Scores of tornado reports in Iowa
8:20 a.m. There were more than a dozen tornadoes reported in Iowa, with most spotted in the western part of the state. Confirmation of tornadoes and damage assessments will be available in the coming days, said Allan Curtis of the National Weather Service.
A truck driver died in the storm
7:00 a.m. The driver of a semitruck traveling on US Highway 151 in Benton County lost control of the vehicle after being struck by a high gust of wind at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. The semi rolled over onto its side and came to rest in a ditch, according to a traffic report from the Iowa State Patrol.
From Wednesday, Dec. 15
Homes damaged in Bayard
— Bryon Houlgrave (@bryonhoulgrave) December 16, 2021
Des Moines hadn't seen wind gusts like that since 1970
9:10 p.m. When Des Moines recorded a 74 mph wind gust at the airport at 8:28 p.m. Wednesday, it was the strongest such gust that wasn’t associated with a thunderstorm since 1970, the National Weather Service reported on Twitter.
The Weather Service predicted the winds would gradually ease late Wednesday, with maximum gusts of 44 mph by 1 a.m. Thursday in Des Moines and just 24 mph by 7 a.m.
By Thursday evening, the wind was expected to drop to less than 5 mph.
Power outages across the Des Moines metro
9 p.m. Just before 9 p.m., MidAmerican Energy Co. was reporting that 17,372 customers were without power in the Des Moines metro.
Among the largest outages: one in Ankeny affecting 1,627 customers; one along S. 88th Street affecting 1,497; one on the near northeast side of central Des Moines affecting 1,379 customers; one near Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines affecting 1,107; one near N.W. Second Street and I-235 affecting 980; and one in Waukee affecting 518.
Alliant Energy reported only scattered outages in the outlying areas it serves.
Strong southwest winds bringing smoke, dust to central Iowa from Kansas
Greene County tornado 'was closer than I really cared for it to be'
8:55 p.m. Adam Glawe had sent his two kids to the basement as Wednesday’s storm pushed toward their Greene County acreage Wednesday evening. But before joining them, he paused for a couple of minutes to watch from his deck. Lightning bolts lit up the sky, illuminating a funnel cloud forming about a mile away.
Glawe snapped a few pictures as the tornado approached his neighbor’s farm just south of Jefferson. The tornado wasn’t huge, he said, “but it was closer than I really cared for it to be.” So he hustled down to the basement.
The storm front raced across the countryside, then subsided as quickly as it arrived. The family came back upstairs after just a few minutes. They could see their neighbor’s place had been hit. The neighbor said a barn and shed were destroyed, and the house was damaged. But everyone there was safe, Glawe said.
The Greene County sheriff told KCCI that buildings were flattened.
Later in the evening, Glawe said that although their electricity was out, his family felt lucky to have suffered very little damage to their acreage. He was struck by the sharp drop in temperature after the storm line pushed through. Earlier in the day, it had felt almost like summer.
“You step out now, and it feels more like what a December evening should feel like,” he said.
Jefferson Mayor Matt Gordon said Wednesday evening that his town was largely spared, although he’d heard of damage in Greene County areas nearby. He’d braced for much worse, after hearing all the warnings.
“I was watching it out the door, and it really was nothing like the derecho,” which devastated swaths of Iowa in 2020.
Des Moines 'pretty fortunate'
7:30 p.m. In Des Moines, police are reporting no significant damages or injuries — mainly damaged trees, fallen power lines, and some shingles off roofs.
"Overall, it appears our community was pretty fortunate," said Sgt. Paul Parizek, spokesperson for the Des Moines Police Department.
A small number of reports of tree damage, power lines arcing around west side of City. No significant damage or injuries reported as of now.
— Des Moines Police (@DMPolice) December 16, 2021
Weather service: Multiple reports of tornadoes in Iowa, damage assessments may take days
7:15 p.m. National Weather Service received multiple reports of tornadoes, including a sighting in Boone but none except, the one in Atlantic, were confirmed.
Final confirmation of tornadoes and damage assessments will be available in the coming days, said Allan Curtis of the National Weather Service.
— Devin Shadravan (@devin_shadravan) December 16, 2021
Main line of storms out of Polk, Warren counties, rain, wind continue
6:55 p.m. After about 25 minutes, the main line of storms has made its way out of Polk and Warren counties, the National Weather Service in Des Moines said in a tweet.
The storm in central Iowa is not over, the agency cautioned. A severe thunderstorm warning in central Iowa remains in place until 7:30 p.m. as rain and strong wind gusts continue.
"A secondary line of weaker storms moving into Waukee area. That should move east of Waukee shortly past 7 pm.," the National Weather Service tweeted.
Non-thunderstorm winds are increasing over western Iowa now. Clarinda just gusted to 69 mph in southwest Iowa at 6:55 PM. #iawx
— NWS Des Moines (@NWSDesMoines) December 16, 2021
Johnston police report some damage from storm
Heads up. Public Works is en route to move this out of the roadway. It is located at NW 106th and Catalina. pic.twitter.com/1XZ4qihRbq
— Johnston Police Department - Iowa (@Johnston_PD) December 16, 2021
Storm hitting Des Moines
6:30 p.m. The Des Moines International Airport recorded wind gusts at 61 mph as rain and heavy wind made its way to Des Moines.
A severe thunderstorm warning in central Iowa — including Des Moines, Ankeny, West Des Moines, Norwalk, Indianola, Pella, and Grinnell — has been extended to 7:30 p.m.
Employees of the National Weather Service have recorded wind gusts near Johnston High School at about 75 mph, according to the agency.
Across the metro area, people reported downpours, lightning and roaring wind. MidAmerican reported 4,102 power outages in Des Moines.
Storm expected to roll through the Des Moines metro soon; Tornado confirmed in Atlantic
6:05 p.m. The National Weather Service provided an update to the Des Moines Register on the windstorm making its way through Iowa.
Central Iowans should expect the storm to roll through within the hour, according to Donna Dubberke, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Des Moines. Dubberke said that winds will continue to pick up through the evening hours and reach up to 70 mph.
After midnight, the winds should start to diminish, she said.
Allan Curtis of the National Weather Service in Des Moines noted that while it's still possible for tornadoes to occur in the metro, the bigger threat is straight line winds.
North of the metro is under a larger threat to tornados, Curtis said.
"We want to stress to people: be smart. If you don't have to be outside traveling in this, don't. Stay inside and away from windows," Curtis said.
The National Weather Service confirmed that there was a tornado in Atlantic, Iowa.
Local TV station WHO 13 reported a tornado in Jefferson. As of 6:05 p.m., the National Weather Service could not confirm the tornado.
— NWS Des Moines (@NWSDesMoines) December 16, 2021
'It went right over the top of me'
6 p.m. Des Moines Register photographer Bryon Houlgrave was stunned by how fast a tornado charged toward him in western Iowa Wednesday evening.
Houlgrave was pulled over on Interstate Highway 80 near Atlantic when he saw the funnel cloud south of the highway. He shot a quick video of it, and thought he’d have time to get away. He was wrong.
Possible tornado sighted in Atlantic, Iowa
5:30 p.m. A cloud with rotation was reported as it cross Interstate 80 near Atlantic Iowa as the storm moved through the state. A Des Moines Register photographer capture the rotation.
— Bryon Houlgrave (@bryonhoulgrave) December 15, 2021
Severe thunderstorm warning issued in central Iowa, including Des Moines
5:10 p.m. A severe thunderstorm warning has been issued until 6:30 p.m. in central Iowa, including for Des Moines, West Des Moines, Ankeny, Waukee, Norwalk, Winterset, Madrid, Perry, Guthrie Center, Stuart, Adair, and Greenfield.
Emergency sirens could be heard in Des Moines starting at about 5:13 p.m. as central Iowans received National Weather Service severe weather alerts on their phones.
Wind gusts are expected to reach 80 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Severe Thunderstorm Warning in effect until 630 pm. 80 mph winds expected with this line of storms to roll into the DSM Metro and westward. TAKE COVER NOW! #iawx https://t.co/R2CZWI7Teu pic.twitter.com/6pEXVmBGxl
— NWS Des Moines (@NWSDesMoines) December 15, 2021
Multiple flights cancelled at Des Moines airport
5:10 p.m. Several airlines have decided not to chance landings at the Des Moines International Airport this evening, as an epic line of thunderstorms approaches from the west.
Most inbound flights scheduled to arrive between 5:30 and 10 p.m. are now listed in red letters as “cancelled” on the airport website. They include flights from Denver, New York, Atlanta and Minneapolis.
A few outbound flights are still listed as “scheduled” during that time, but others, such as those headed to Denver or Washington, D.C., are either delayed or cancelled.
Numerous tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings issued
4:55 p.m.: Numerous tornado warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service until 5:15 p.m. for western Iowa areas including: Oakland, Treynor, Carson, Woodbine, Dunlap, Ute, Council Bluffs, Underwood, Neola, Harlan, Shelby, Earling, Cherokee, Kingsley, Holstein, Correctionville, Anthon, Pierson, Le Mars, Remsen, Moville, Denison, Schleswig, Dow City, Avoca, Walnut, Elk Horn, Earling, Irwin, Defiance, Atlantic, Audubon, and Anita.
And, with wind gusts expected to reach 70 to 90 mph, severe thunderstorm warnings have been issued as well to last until 5:30 p.m..Areas under those warnings include: Carroll, Denison, Sac City, Atlantic, Audubon, Corning, Red Oak, Shenandoah, Clarinda, Council Bluffs, Onawa, Woodbine, Mapleton, Glenwood, Le Mars, Cherokee, Ida Grove, Sioux Center, Orange City, Sheldon, Spencer, and Storm Lake.
⚠️ A tornado has been reported by law enforcement near Salix, IA! It would have been 2 miles south of Salix, IA at 417 pm and will be near Lawton and Moville around 430 pm🌪️
— NWS Sioux Falls (@NWSSiouxFalls) December 15, 2021
National Weather Service issues all caps instructions, warnings, tornado sighting
4:15 p.m. Shortly after 4 p.m., National Weather Service officials in several offices began issuing severe warning.
A tornado touched down near Plattsmouth, Nebraska, which borders Iowa’s western edge. At 4:14 p.m., the National Weather Service in Omaha tweeted in all caps: “FUNNEL ON THE GROUND ON HWY 66 NEAR PLATTSMOUTH!
FUNNEL ON THE GROUND ON HWY 66 NEAR PLATTSMOUTH!
— NWS Omaha (@NWSOmaha) December 15, 2021
The National Weather Service also issued a tornado warning until 4:15 p.m. in Glenwood and Malvern, as well as Plattsmouth, Nebraska.
The weather experts also issues tornado warnings for Mondamin, Moville, Kingsley, Sloan in Iowa until 4:45 p.m.
The weather service in Omaha issued a thunderstorm warning that includes Omaha and Council Bluffs until 4:45 p.m. "This destructive storm will contain wind gusts to 90 MPH!," it said.
And at 4 p.m., it tweeted: "If you are near Sioux City, IA, TAKE SHELTER NOW. - Dangerous, strong winds will move in shortly. - The radar indicated tornado circulation is estimated to move in around 430 PM."
'A severe line of storms' to enter western Iowa around 4 p.m.
3:32 p.m.: A severe line of storms is moving from eastern Nebraska and into western Iowa, according to the National Weather Service. The agency predicts the windstorm will enter western Iowa at about 4 p.m. and will produce wind gusts of about 60 to 85 mph.
And with estimated gusts up to 70 mph, a severe thunderstorm warning has been issued in Sioux City, Sergeant Bluff, and South Sioux City, Nebraska until 4:30 p.m.
A 'one of a kind' storm
2:45 p.m. Allan Curtis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, said in an online briefing posted to YouTube that there was widespread potential for severe storms and potentially long-lived storms.
Travel will be hazardous for large-profile vehicles like semitrailers, Curtis said. Even large SUVs could be blown over. Thunderstorms will be moving fast, at about 80 mph.
“Think of it as Interstate speeds,” Curtis said. “It’s not something that you’re going to be able to outrun if you are out on the road.”
The first “punch” will come from the rainstorms, Curtis said. Then there will be a break of may be an hour or two where things are breezy, but milder. Another “punch” will hit after that, in the form of a windstorm.
Wednesday's storm line would "raise eyebrows" even if it happened in the summer, he said. It's especially concerning to see it happen in December, he said.
“We don’t have a lot to compare it to,” Curtis said. “It’s really one of a kind for this state or this area for this time of year."
Des Moines ties record for highest ever December temperature in Iowa
2:36 p.m. Thurman, Iowa set the record for highest December temperature in Iowa on Dec. 6, 1939, with a temperature of 74 degrees, according to Iowa State Climatologist Justin Glisan.
Des Moines tied that 82-year-old record Wednesday when the city hit 74 degrees at the Des Moines International Airport at 1:54 p.m. Six times between 1889 and 2017 Des Moines hit 69 degrees in December. But the city had never broken 70 degrees in December until Wednesday.
The previous record for Dec. 15 was 59 degrees set in 2002.
Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Burlington all broke record high temperatures for December, according to the National Weather Service office in the Quad Cities.
Highest wind gust so far recorded in Lamoni
2:18 p.m. The highest wind gust recorded so far in the coverage area for the National Weather Service in Des Moines was 56 mph at 11:11 a.m. at the Lamoni Airport, according to the NWS.
Des Moines International Airport recorded a gust of 45 mph at 12:23 p.m., according to the weather service.
Indianola to sound sirens for winds above 70 mph
2:16 p.m. Indianola announced storm sirens will activate when winds reach 70 mph or more in the approaching storm. Winds are expected to gust well into that range, or more, through Wednesday evening.
Tornado watch issued for western, central, northern Iowa, including Des Moines
1:35 p.m. The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for areas in Iowa including Sioux City, Spirit Lake, Fort Dodge, Mason City, Ames, Waterloo, Des Moines and Ottumwa.
Parts of northwest Missouri, northeast Kansas and eastern Nebraska were also included in the tornado watch. The tornado watch will be in effect until 8 p.m. Wednesday. The weather service warned that "a few tornadoes" are likely. Hail up to a quarter size is possible.
Local governments in central Iowa are canceling meetings, closing offices
1:20 p.m. Ahead of expected severe weather Wednesday evening, governments have canceled meetings and buildings are closing their doors to keep employees and patrons safe.
Closures include Polk County government offices, which closed at 2 p.m. Wednesday due to the storm. The offices are expected to reopen for normal hours Thursday.
West Des Moines' library closed at 1 p.m. and will reopen at 9 a.m. Thursday.
West Des Moines has also canceled a community workshop for the Historic West Des Moines Master Plan that was set for 5:30 p.m. at Stilwell Junior High. A visual preference survey on design guidelines that was set to be conducted at that workshop will now be available at historicwdm.com for two weeks starting Thursday.
What are MidAmerican, Alliant Energy utilities doing to prepare?
1:05 p.m. MidAmerican Energy, the state’s largest power provider, says the Des Moines utility has spent recent days preparing for possible outages with the monster windstorm expected to crash branches and trees into power lines.
“Forecasters are calling for this to impact much of Iowa,” said Geoff Greenwood, a MidAmerican Energy spokesman, Wednesday. “So, it’s not just one city, but our entire service area that’s under the gun.”
MidAmerican has 704,000 electric customers across Iowa, including Des Moines, Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Waterloo, Iowa City and the Quad Cities.
“We’re in an all-hands-on-deck mode,” Greenwood said.
MidAmerican said crews are ready to work 24 hours a day “for as long as it’s needed,” Greenwood said. MidAmerican’s line crews are fully staffed, and it has contract crews ready to help remove trees and help repair power lines.
It's the same story from Alliant Energy, which serves serves 490,000 electric customers in cities that include Cedar Rapids, Marshalltown and Dubuque.
"Alliant Energy crews are trained and prepared to safely respond to any outages that may occur," said Alliant spokesman Tony Palese in an email.
MidAmerican's Greenwood said the utility has known for a few days that Iowa could see the potential for high winds. But in the last 24 hours, the National Weather Service has added the possibility of thunderstorm in north central Iowa.
With non-thunderstorm winds gusting up to 70 mph, winds in the thunderstorm could reach 80 mph or more, the National Weather Service said.
Iowa’s rural electric cooperative crews are on alert and ready to respond if branches or trees knock out power lines, said Scott Meinecke, director of safety for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.
Cooperatives, which provide electricity to about 15% of the state’s population, want customers to call with any outages.
“The more outage information your electric co-op has on hand, the better it can pinpoint the exact location and extent of an outage,” Meinecke said.
Meinecke asked that customers be patient with outages. Line workers “may not be able to climb poles or go up in the bucket if the conditions are too windy,” he said.
The association reminds Iowans not to touch downed power lines or drive over them. Always assume power lines are energized and dangerous until officials say otherwise. The group wants Iowans to report downed lines, damaged poles or damaged electrical equipment to their cooperative or local police.
Consumers can go online to see the state’s electric cooperative outages. The map is updated every 15 minutes.
Tornado watch expected by 2 p.m.
1 p.m. The National Weather Service in Des Moines tweeted that a tornado watch is expected to be issued by 2 p.m. at the latest for portions of western and eastern Nebraska and central Iowa.
Authorities warn people to ‘avoid travel that is not absolutely necessary.’
12:30 p.m. At this time of year officers in Iowa are used to responding warning people to stay off the roads because of snowstorms, not thunderstorms, said Polk County Sheriff’s Lt. Ryan Evans.
"It's really weird," Evans said. "We're 10 days before Christmas and we're talking about 70 degree temperatures and near-hurricane force winds."
Evans warned people to pay "more attention now than ever" conditions like the ones expected later Wednesday. People should also be mindful of debris which could get in their way, Evans said.
"Visibility is going to be knocked down to who knows how far and that just makes driving that much more hazardous," Evans said.
Pedestrians should to avoid walking outside during the windstorm because flying objects pose hazards, Evans said.
"Those are healthy wind gusts, so people need to be mindful," Evans said.
Des Moines Police spokesperson Sgt. Paul Parizek told central Iowa residents to "avoid travel that is not absolutely necessary.
What do high wind warnings, tornado watches mean?
12:10 p.m. All but one of Iowa’s counties were under high wind warnings for Wednesday. That means there is expected to be a period of at least one hour when there are sustained winds of at least 40 mph, or gusts of at least 58 mph.
From the National Weather Service: “Ensure that all objects outside are secured. Refrain from any unnecessary driving during this time since these winds will make driving very difficult, especially for high profile vehicles. Winds this strong may damage trees, power lines and small structures.”
There are not currently severe thunderstorm or tornado watches or warnings, but there could be later this evening.
A severe thunderstorm or tornado watch means the ingredients exist for severe weather or tornadoes to develop. A warning means severe weather is occurring or about to occur, or that a tornado has been spotted or indicated by radar in the area.
Watches suggest staying alert to potential danger, while warnings urge you to take action from present or imminent danger.
Part of the prep? Removing holiday decorations.
Bob Hoffbauer, left, and Jordan Stupka gathered unsecured Christmas ornaments outside the Lawmark Capital building in downtown Des Moines ahead of what is expected to be an extreme windstorm. #iawx pic.twitter.com/cNSdmtGWbI
— Nic Garcia (@NicGarcia) December 15, 2021
Keep track of school closures
Storm chances increasing
11:45 a.m. Des Moines is now at a moderate risk of seeing severe thunderstorms, according to the 10:43 a.m. forecast update from the National Weather Service.
Des Moines was previously in the "enhanced" category, the fourth level on the six level NWS risk assessment from thunderstorms. The latest forecast also estimated that wind gusts could range from 70 mph to 100 mph.
Previous estimates just said wind gusts could exceed 80 mph. Wednesday's storms will move fast at 80 mph, according to the NWS. Storms could move through "a typical Iowa county" in 20 minutes, according to the weather service.
"At least a few tornadoes possible, some strong," the NWS warned. "Reaction time may be minimal due to extremely fast storm motion."
Is there a tornado watch in Iowa?
11:45 a.m. As of now, a tornado watch has not been issued for any parts of Iowa. There were threats of tornadoes, weather officials said. The National Weather Service pegged chance of tornadoes in parts of northern Iowa at about 10%. Other parts of Iowa are at about 5%
Exact locations in each area keep shifting as the forecast changes throughout the day.
Mile-Long Bridge to close at noon
11:30 a.m. The Mile-Long Bridge which carries Iowa Highway 415 over Saylorville Lake will close at noon Wednesday because of high winds anticipated later in the day, according to a news release from the Iowa Department of Transportation.
It is anticipated the bridge will re-open at 8 a.m. Thursday.
Northwest 78th Avenue on the Saylorville Dam will also close at noon, said Jeff Rose, Saylorville Lake operations project manager.
Keep updated about storm damage reports
11 a.m. As of now, storm damage reports have not yet started rolling in for Iowa.
But, if the windstorm becomes as powerful as predicted and is accompanied by tornadoes or thunderstorms, damage may follow.
Track storm damage reports with this local and national map of damage reports.
Chuck Grassley: 'We're following the weather closely'
11 a.m. In his weekly call with reporters, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he was watching the weather and that the federal government would be prepared to help, if needed.
"We're going to follow it very closely, and hopefully we don't get the damage we did in the derecho. If we do, we'll have to do the same thing we would do with every major disaster," he said.
Here's how he said that would work: "The governor, under our law, has to take the first step of determining that the amount of damage meets a certain threshold and then submit it to... the president of the United States. And you'll see a bipartisan approach by the Iowa congressional delegation getting the president to make a quick certification. And just soon as that certification is made, mostly FEMA, but there's other programs that kick in — they kick in just like they did over the weekend with the tornadoes in Kentucky."
State officials are monitoring
We're monitoring the potential severe weather targeting our state today. Please keep a close eye on the weather and have a plan in place. Stay safe. https://t.co/09V3JB5Qoh
— Gov. Kim Reynolds (@IAGovernor) December 15, 2021
10 a.m. On Wednesday morning, Gov. Kim Reynolds said: "We're monitoring the potential severe weather targeting our state today. Please keep a close eye on the weather and have a plan in place. Stay safe."
Des Moines Register reporters Phillip Joens, Donnelle Eller, Tony Leys, Andrea Sahouri, Sarah LeBlanc, Brianne Pfannenstiel, data specialist Tim Webber and editor Bill Steiden contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa declares disasters in 49 counties in wake of storms, tornadoes