Storm Derecho Impact Zone – Clear Lake Mirror Reporter
by Marianne Gasaway,
Michelle Watson and Lisa Riggin
“It was quick, difficult and gone.”
This is how Charlie Norris described the storm that tore off much of the roof of his house on Wednesday, December 15. Charlie and his wife, Louise, are awaiting official word from the adjusters, but they believe the rural house they built in 1979 will be declared a total loss.
The home is just one of many properties damaged as an unusually strong and vibrant winter system brought severe thunderstorms and tornadoes to parts of northern Iowa last week. The area also experienced widespread high winds that damaged many trees, structures and power lines.
To put things in perspective on the rarity of the event, according to the National Weather Service, this was the first time since record-keeping began in 1986 that the NWS office had to issue both a warning to Severe thunderstorm and tornado during the month of December, with six and eight issued respectively.
In total, the weather event led to the issuance of 189 warnings in the central United States, including 118 for severe thunderstorms and the remaining 71 for tornadoes.
In the days that followed, the storm was classified by the NWS as a derecho.
Charlie Norris said he didn’t know what to call the storm that hit his house, possibly a small tornado that didn’t reach the ground or winds in a straight line. Either way, it was unlike anything he had ever seen before.
Charlie and his wife, Louise, watched the news and paid close attention to weather developments, including keeping an eye on their own weather station with anemometer. “When the power went out the wind picked up and Louise said, ‘let’s go to the basement,’” Charlie said. “Around the time we hit the landing, the roof was collapsing. I wasn’t quite at the bottom of the stairs when the plasterboard and insulation started falling on us. A few seconds later, it was over.
The Norris were not injured in any of the debris, but their home was badly hit. In addition, the grain elevators were badly damaged. They have spent the last few days clearing their belongings from their 42-year-old home.
“We are truly blessed with so many friends, family and others who offered to help. Members of a 4-H club showed up to help as best they could and others brought in food, treats and their expertise.
We are waiting to find out if the house is a total loss, but we believe it is, ”Charlie said. “The whole roof is up and three quarters are gone. There are also foundation issues. It’s hard to lose the house we’ve spent most of our married life in, but we have most of the memories. We’re going to push it down and rebuild.
Wind speeds at the airport, located just southwest of Norris’ house, were recorded up to 83 mph.
A few miles south, Mike and Mary Baker Farm has lost at least 10 trees that line the old Route 106. The felled trees were all planted in 1977, but the maples, which are all over 100 years old, survived because all of their leaves were already gone, explained Mary. Additionally, one of the bakers’ grain silos rolled over 106, dropping coins as it went. Fortunately, they had cleared the yard of as many small items and sculptures as they could, but the larger metal sculptures were knocked over, sunk into the ground, and froze in place. “Those won’t move until spring!” Marie reflects. Overall, the couple are feeling lucky, but the trees that have sheltered Baker’s Corner from the highway for decades are going to be missing.
Scott Vestweber said his homestead south of Clear Lake on 190th Street was also damaged. He was upstairs and his mother downstairs when the worst of the storm hit. Cheryl said it was the first time in her life that she thought she should have gone to the basement. Several trees fell, but luckily none on their house. A metal building used as a store was completely destroyed, as the two locked doors were opened and sent flying.
Nearby, Brent and Linda Scarrow on 180th Street sustained extensive damage to two outbuildings across their area. One of the buildings was a new structure that houses their company, Bec Foods.
“It was a tense situation to see the roof of the building go up and down and know that if it came loose it would come straight to the house,” Brent said. He added that it is also frustrating to know that contractors are already overbooked and supplies are scarce. “Replacement doors to close the structure aren’t available until at least May,” Brent said.
“We are very grateful that our house was not damaged and that no one was injured,” said Linda. “Overall it’s a lot of damage, but it could have been a lot worse. “
Cliff and Laurie Sheakley, 408 Bedford St., have one of the city’s most impressive Christmas exhibits. It’s a highlight for Cliff to light up his entire home and yard every year for the sake of the community. So we can only imagine how nervous he was that all of his hard work could be destroyed in Wednesday night’s windstorm.
“I tried to prepare as much as possible in advance,” Cliff said. “I staked out Santa’s workshop and barricaded the window and the door. But despite my best efforts, all of my screens broke. I was able to put them back in place on Thursday, with the exception of the angel, which needs to be rewired.
The Clear Lake Police Department received 113 phone calls Wednesday night, including 48 service calls, CLPD Captain Mike Colby reported. The CLPD worked in tandem with the city’s public works department to respond to emergency calls and clean up debris where needed in the city. This included three sheds which were lifted over a fence at Truck Specialties and deposited on Route 122
Public Works Director Jeremy Korenberg said advance notice of the storm’s potential helped them prepare. Additional workers were called in to fill the lifting stations, and three crew members stayed at the town store until 2 a.m. to be available for road clearing. City crews helped Alliant Energy deal with areas where there was debris on 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 peak electricity.
Korenberg said a dozen decorative city lights were out and one fell.