Iowa's 2020 Hurricane
It’s been far too long, again, since I posted to this blog, but this time I have a legitimate excuse: we’ve been without power or internet, or much of anything, since about 11:45 AM on Monday, August 10, 2020. So we have now been more than 10.5 days without power. I’m only able to post this because of a portable generator I bought on August 12 (that was an adventure in itself) and the wireless hotspot that my phone has provided almost 24/7 ever since the storm hit.
Update: Power was finally restored here at about 6:30 PM, on Thursday, August 20, 2020. Now I just have 11.5 days of things to catch up on!
The preamble to this story dates back to Christmas 2019, when my daughter gave me a “Dad’s Love…” daily calendar. There have been a couple of dates I kept because they are so accurate, like the day that says “We child-proofed the house but somehow they still got in.” 😄 Tama County has been in the grips of a moderate-to-severe drought for the past couple of months so the calendar page for August 10 looked like another “keeper”. It says:
9:30 AM - Scurry Walk
This story begins in earnest around 9:30 AM on Monday, August 10, 2020. My “scurry” and I were just completing a quick walk around Cherry Lake where we had picked up a little trash, as we usually do. We met a couple of neighbors out for a walk and chatted briefly about the weather, and I suggested that the line of storms now in western Iowa looked like they might just hold together. Every weather system thus far in the summer had passed either just to our north, just to the south, or formed just to the east, so the neighbors just scoffed at the notion of us getting any rain. I was so sure it would rain this time that I didn’t hesitate to put a concrete block on the west-half of my hot tub cover to keep it closed in case of wind. I guess I should have used all eight blocks this time? 😕
11:45 AM - The Wind
The storms did indeed “hold together”. Oh boy, did they ever. A wall of wind hit Tama-Toledo at about 11:45 AM that morning, with literally NO warning from the US Weather Service. I had received alerts from the WeatherBug app on my iPhone, but there was no “official” word of impending doom. The rain didn’t begin until 5 or 10 minutes later, and I’m not sure any hit the ground because EVERYTHING, tree limbs, mailboxes, small animals, etc., was moving sideways. The power went out moments later. It’s still out as of this writing, a little more than 10 days since.
11:55 AM - Get the Cats!
After hustling to the basement and realizing the house was not gone, yet, we thought we’d better go back upstairs to get some candles, more flashlights, and our three cats. Mackenzie and I managed to get two of the cats pretty easily, but the third one was stubborn and had to be “captured”. While we were doing this I glanced out the window and saw nothing but tree limbs, still sailing past the windows on a nearly horizontal trajectory.
By the time we captured the last cat I thought to myself, the wind can’t last much longer…it had been blowing for at least 5 minutes straight, and I do mean STRAIGHT. I was very wrong. Thinking back, I do believe the wind blew at upwards of 100 MPH or more for at least 20 minutes.
11:58 AM - Morgan’s Story
My daughter, Morgan, had been at the STC Middle School in Toledo working on getting her classroom ready for the start of school. She got a call from a friend in Des Moines at about 11:30 AM telling her to watch out for a line of t-storms heading her way. There are no windows in her classroom so when she finally left the Middle School and saw how dark the sky was she got really concerned and promptly ordered the building secretary to open the office and get a handful of students back inside. They had just dismissed from summer-school and were waiting outside for their parents to pick them up. Good thing she did that.
Morgan drove away from the Middle School just minutes before a wall-of-wind roared in, and she called my cell phone at 11:50 AM just as she passed our house, letting me know that she was going straight to her apartment because her landlord wasn’t home and she was worried about her cats. The 5-minute drive to her apartment took about 3 hours? A couple of minutes later, at 11:55 AM we ran to our basement (after a 2nd mailbox went sailing past our front door) and Morgan called again at 11:58 AM. Her car had been hit by a falling tree limb, about 6" in diameter, near the crest of the hill on State Street in Tama, just south of the Tama Park. Her windshield was shattered, fortunately on the passenger’s side, and she was freaking out. I told her to stay in her car and Christine called 9-1-1 to provide her with some emergency aid.
The 9-1-1 call had to route through Benton county (30 miles east of us) as the local center was already overwhelmed, and the storm hadn’t hit there yet. A local police officer was dispatched and could get no closer than about 2.5 blocks from Morgan’s car due to downed trees, but made his way to her on-foot. He told her same as me, stay in your car to avoid downed power lines and potentially being hit by flying debris. He also told her to fasten her seatbelt in case the wind flipped the car over. Yikes! That happened at 12:18 PM, and the wind was still fierce!
At 12:20 PM my wife realized where Morgan was and called a friend who lives at the location of Morgan’s “tree incident”, and that friend managed to summon her inside once it was safe to make a run for it.
12:30 PM - The Wind Finally Stopped, Time to “Rescue” Morgan
It was about 12:30 PM when I felt like it was finally safe to go back upstairs and outside. Our mission was to try and get to Morgan as soon as possible. The power was out so I could not easily raise our double garage door, so I peeked out the front door to see what the situation was. OMG!
Our house is about 70 years old and it is (was) surrounded by five very large, mature trees… two grand old Oaks flanking the front yard, an American Sycamore directly west of our garage and patio, and two very tall pines on the NW and NE corners of the house, plus a few smaller and younger trees and bushes. Our driveway measures about 15' x 45' and it was entirely covered in limbs from one of the oaks and the Sycamore. Some of the limbs down on the driveway measured more than 10" in diameter. It ultimately took about 14 hours of back-breaking effort just to clear the driveway well enough for us to get both vehicles out of the garage.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm I had two other transportation options: the bicycle I had just purchased on Saturday, August 8; or my daughter Mackenzie’s car which was parked at the curb west of our house. I was pretty sure that car, parked partly beneath one of the oaks and the Sycamore, would be badly damaged, but it was not. There were limbs and whole trees, from our neighbor to the west, lying all around it, but the car was unscathed and operable. It took a little serpentine driving to navigate out of it’s parking spot, but by about 12:45 PM Christine and I were able to get it out and on-the road to try and “rescue” Morgan, roughly 1/2-mile away.
That 1/2-mile trip featured five impassable streets and a mile or two of back-tracking to find a suitable (barely) route. The four-lane US Highway 63 proved to be the best route for most of the trip only because it was wide enough that trees on the west side generally didn’t block all four lanes. We arrived in the vicinity of Morgan’s car at 1:02 PM and found that she had already pulled the largest limb off her car, what was left looked like this:
Morgan’s apartment is about 1-mile from the location where we left her car, and she knew that her landlord and family were away in Cedar Rapids for the day, so we headed there to check on that property, and her cats. That trip took about 10 minutes with numerous “detours” but I was able to drive to within a half-block of the house. Thankfully we found the house intact with no visible, major damage, and the cats were safe, but obviously frightened, still inside Morgan’s apartment. Fortunately, the large old tree outside Morgan’s apartment window was damaged earlier this year in a storm, and had to be taken down entirely just a couple of weeks ago; otherwise it would have certainly damaged the house and her apartment. We called the landlord to report the relatively good news as they tried to begin their journey back home from CR. Then it started to rain again, just a little.
This part of the story is perhaps best told in pictures. I took some photos and am posting them here in chronological order, with descriptive captions.
First Glimpse Out the Window
Headed Outside to Shoot More Photos
The power was out everywhere for 30 to 50 miles all around us so we assumed it was safe to get outside and take some better photos. No chance of getting cars out of the garage… our driveway was at least 80% covered by tree parts, some places it was 4 feet deep.
West Side Story - The “Rolling Stone”, Hot Tub, Grill, and Limbs on the Roof
There were three pleasantly-amazing (lucky) things that happened, or didn’t happen as the case may be, on the west, windward, side of the house.
First up, my home-made lightweight teardrop camper, “The Rolling Stone”. It’s the gray thing that looks like a big old boulder on wheels in the right side of the first image below. It survived, almost unscathed! The only damage was from the door being blown open. That door hit the west wall of the house so hard that it bent a 1/8" thick steel latch plate back at a 120° angle. Because the door was open, things just inside the door also got a little wet, but they dried out well since then. The whole camper pitched forward about 3' in the wind, but the on-board drop-foot was down so it didn’t fall to the ground. Had any large limbs fallen directly on it, we’d have had a total loss of structure and contents.
Next, the hot tub and grill. The very first thing I did when I got outdoors after the storm was to flip the hot tub cover back down. I have yet to clean all the leaves and debris out of the water…maybe later today.
When I receive any alert of a possible storm I always move one of the concrete blocks, seen stacked on the right in the image below, over to the west edge of my hot tub cover in order to keep it from blowing open. I made that move about 15 minutes before the storm hit, but it didn’t help. In fact, it did more damage, I think. The cover seems to be OK, but the wind did flip it open, sending the concrete block sailing about 10' into the side of the house and narrowly missing the bathroom window that you can see. Lucky for us!
But our gas grill was not so lucky. That concrete block smashed down upon it leaving a big dent in the top, and causing the grill to “list” about 2" to port (the left side when looking from back to front).
Finally, the limbs on the roof; you can see them clearly in some of these images. There were actually three of them, the largest with a diameter of about 5" at its base. All three were from the Sycamore tree, which I suppose is lucky. Sycamore’s have ENORMOUS leaves and while I feared severe damage to the roof, it looks like all three limbs just gently “floated” down to where I found them. I got them sawed up, and down off the roof, including an informal damage inspection plus wasp nest encounter, on Tuesday, August 11.
Building the World’s Largest (?) Boma
The mayors of Tama and Toledo, along with the Tama Co. Emergency Management office, called a public meeting, conducted in the parking lot of the nearby Tama-Toledo Family Aquatic Center, for 6 PM on Wednesday, August 12. At that meeting the cities informed everyone that any debris left at the curb would eventually be picked up and disposed of by a city crew. So, we started building what I like to think of as the world’s largest boma.
In the images below you can see both our west and south bomas. We didn’t need any on the east or north since we have neighbors on those sides, but we did build a small boma (about 30' long by 10' wide) in the parking lot of the church that sits at the NE corner of our property, where our utilities pole is located.
The Tree Wrangler
On Thursday, August 13, I started to address some of the potential widow-makers still hanging in our trees. My first target was the one shown below. I managed to rig a short chain to the end of a nylon rope and after about 10 tries I got the chain wrapped around the most menacing widow-maker, and yanked that sucker right out of the tree. They call me the “Tree Wrangler”. I’m pleased to report that subsequent limb-roping adventures took fewer tosses!
Do you remember seeing an ominous widow-maker in the Sycamore tree in earlier images? Well she is no more. At about 1:30 PM on Wednesday, August 19, I roped that critter and managed, with considerable effort, to yank that bad boy down. Proof that “The Tree Wrangler” has struck again…
More Random Photos - Post Cleanup
Just posting more random, post-cleanup photos here.
The Kansas City Chiefs - Still World Champs
After closing the hot tub cover I made sure to get out and untangle my KC Chiefs flag!
Our $800 Savior
On Wednesday morning, August 12, I got word that some of the big-box hardware stores in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo were receiving shipments of portable generators. They were being sold on a first-come basis, right off the truck, so Morgan and I got in the van and headed to Waterloo as fast as possible…we got one at Lowe’s for $800. Had to wait in line for a couple of hours too, but managed to get home mid-afternoon with the generator, some ice and gasoline. None of those things would be available locally until Friday, August 14.
My Biggest Remaining Concern - Broken at the Base?
My biggest remaining worry is the pine tree at the NW corner of the house. On Thursday, August 13, during clean-up I discovered that the bark on the SE side of the tree is “crushed” as you can see in the image below, and there’s a visible “crack” on the NW side of the tree right at ground-level. Upon closer inspection it looks like the tree is leaning about 5°, naturally right toward our house. 😟
Houston, We Have a Problem OR The Eagle Has Landed!
One block west of our house there’s a bank, and it used to have a large golden-colored eagle atop it’s electronic sign at the intersection of Summit Street and US Highway 63. When we told folks from out-of-town how to find us we would always use that eagle as a navigational aid, telling them to find the eagle and head one block east to our house.
Well, our navigational aid got its wings during the storm. As you can see in the photos below, the eagle “flew” about 200 feet and landed in the bank’s lawn.
With No Apparent Structural Damage, We Were Luckier Than Some
Oak Hill Cemetery - August 20, 2020
Since all the Alliant trucks rolled past our house around 10 AM this morning, I thought it was time to visit Ian and my parents at Oak Hill Cemetery. Frustrations at home certainly weren’t getting any better so I felt like getting away to take a deep breath and realign my perspective a little. Oak Hill usually does that for me.
Oak Hill Cemetery is well-named…it blankets the hill with Ian and my parents' graves near the very top, and there are lots of oaks, but even more pines. Well, there used to be anyway.
This is perhaps another case where photos tell the story better than I. However, I’m not sure the few photos I took will reflect the scale of the devastation. For starters, the main road up to the cemetery is still blocked, as are the three entrances into the original cemetery. Fortunately, the newest section where there are no mature trees, was relatively clear. So, Morgan and I were able to drive in and park about 100 yards from the hilltop.
This is a glimpse of what we found there…
I could not bear to shoot the panorama over the opposing 180° view…it was just too sad. 😢
The broken pine, shown above, is, or was, near my parents' graves, and you can see their shared headstone just to the right in the image above. My son, Ian, is buried a little to the left of the edge of the image, but you can’t see that grave from this angle because of all the tree debris. “Ian’s Cache”, GC4BG3B is somewhere inside or under that tree. I looked for the container for about 15 minutes this morning, but came up empty-handed. 😦
Fortunately, when the ol' tree fell it missed Ian’s grave by a few feet. We got lucky and found all four of the clear acrylic cylinders that used to adorn his grave. They are all intact, but need a little TLC before we put them all back out.
My parents' headstone is in good shape, but another tree toppled the nearby stone marker for my aunt, Dorothy Paddleford. I’ll see to it that gets fixed soon.
A few weeks ago my brother-in-law, Dennis, set in-motion a plan to install an engraved stone bench as a memorial for my sister, Marlene McFate Burkheimer. It was to be placed not far from the cemetery road at the very top of the hill, about 50' from the big pine. At one time we thought about looking into wrapping a bench around that ol' pine to provide a nice place, in the shade, to sit and relax. However, providing a concrete base for such a bench would have been very difficult. Maybe if the pine’s stump is removed we can place the bench where the tree was, and maybe one day plant another tree to provide the shady spot we hoped for?
Tomorrow morning I plan to contact the City of Tama and the Oak Hill Cemetery Association to see about volunteering to help with clean-up. I think they are going to want all the help they can get in the coming weeks and months.
It’s late-evening again, but at least now I have some real lights to work by. Tomorrow I need to start reprogramming all the devices that have been dead for 11.5 days, and begin making up for as many days of missed work. Time for bed. G’night all.
Until next time… but I hope there’s never another “next time” quite like this one!