STORM STRIKES FD
KNOCKS OUT POWER FOR ABOUT 4,600
Trees and power lines were the primary Fort Dodge victims of a derecho storm that passed through central Iowa late Monday morning as destructive, straight-line winds pierced through the state as fast as the traffic on U.S. Highway 20.
Speeds of 60 to 70 mph were recorded in most areas around Fort Dodge, with some gusts near 100 mph in the region.
“We got lucky to only have received the damages that we did,” said Dylan Hagen, coordinator for the Webster County Emergency Management Agency, noting some tree and corn field casualties, but no major damage throughout the county.
Most of downtown Fort Dodge and parts of Fifth Avenue South closed by the early afternoon as power outages continued with no restoration predicted by the close of the business day. The Webster County Courthouse sent employees home early. Fort Dodge City Council postponed its regular Monday meeting to Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Power returned to parts of downtown around 6 p.m.
About 4,600 residents in Fort Dodge were without power as of 1 p.m., according to MidAmerican Energy outage maps, reduced to just under half that by the end of the business day.
Many county and city departments, though frustrated by the lack of power and phone lines to critical infrastructure, said that the area went relatively unscathed as Des Moines suffered more extensive damage and a power outage to over 125,000 residents by mid-afternoon.
By 6 p.m., another 125,000 residents in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and the Quad Cities were out of power as the derecho sped towards Chicago. National media outlets reported that Fort Dodge was part of over a million people who were left without electricity from eastern Nebraska to northern Illinois as the gusts continued to traverse the Indiana and Michigan state lines.
A derecho storm is a line of severe thunderstorms that produce strong, intense, damaging winds, according to Jeff Zogg, National Weather Service meteorologist. They move at roughly twice the speed of the average severe thunderstorm’s 30 to 40 mph. Gusts in some spots observed topping 100 mph were comparable to those of a Category 2 hurricane.
“That’s what they’re famous for – damaging winds,” Zogg said of the obscure severe weather term.
He said the weather system, which was coined in 1888 and named after the Spanish word for “direct” or “straight ahead”, started to build speed in west central and northwestern Iowa as it entered the state and continued east, entering the central Iowa region at about 11 a.m. and departing for eastern Iowa at about 12:30 p.m.
With the winds came a negligible amount of rain: the Fort Dodge Regional Airport measured .17 inches, and the Des Moines International Airport measured nine-tenths of an inch. Zogg, based in Des Moines, said the sudden rain in the middle of Iowa’s worsening drought could translate to runoff.
Hagen did not observe any local runoff or flooding in Webster County.
“It’s going to be quite a while before we can get everybody back on, with tree damage and line damage to be cleared out before we can even get to some (areas),” said Tina Hoffman, vice president of corporate communications for MidAmerican Energy.
Fort Dodge fared well compared to other major cities hit, with only about 60 separate incidents to be assessed for repairs.
The unique nature of the derecho storm, which spanned the entire state and entered into other states in MidAmerican’s territory, meant that the effort to bring in crews was an “all hands on deck effort,” Hoffman said. Given the wide swathe of damage left in the storm’s path, she said MidAmerican was considering bringing in crews from out of state to expedite repairs.
“Our ability to bring (crews) in from an area not hit (by the storm) to respond is limited because they’re working on their own (areas),” she said. “With high winds, there are lots of different pieces to the puzzle. It’s a significant storm.”
Despite the overwhelming demand in other urban areas, she said Fort Dodge would receive the same level of priority from MidAmerican.
Fort Dodge’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department had wind damage at Rosedale Rapids Aquatic Center to a canopy structure and was forced to close some parks and Lakeside Municipal Golf Course.
The two biggest calls for service included a tree going through the roof of a house and a tree that damaged a car, according to Director Lori Branderhorst. Other trees blocked streets after bring split in half.
“Our biggest priorities are tree calls,” she said.
Though the city didn’t encounter many whole trees being uprooted, crews found plenty of broken branches and trees split in half. Parks and Forestry Superintendent Kevin Lunn said the city should be able to finish cleaning up the ones in city right-of-ways by the end of Tuesday.
Branderhorst said residents can help expedite city clean-up by moving smaller limbs out of the right-of-ways between the sidewalk and the street, if they’re able to, and report the incidents online through the city’s website or through the department’s “SeeClickFix” smartphone app. Service calls routed through the app or online are easier for the department to track and manage, she said.
Those without internet access should call the Webster County Law Enforcement Center or the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department at 515-576-7237 and select option 3. Phone calls proved less accessible for reporting purposes Monday, as phone lines remained down through most of the day, leaving 911 as one of the only public emergency service lines open.
“It complicates things for citizens because there’s no means to (report a problem) unless they have a (staff) cell number or if they can get ahold of the police department, so it’s a difficult situation to maneuver,” Branderhorst said. “Times like this remind us that we’ve got to have a backup plan.”
Fort Dodge Public Works reported no significant issues besides traffic signal outages downtown and along Fifth Avenue South, where temporary stop signs were installed. Many signals in Fort Dodge have battery back-ups, Director Brett Daniel said.