Record breaking 88 degree temperature (old record was 78)
followed in the evening by record-breaking tornadoes.

Postcard from Tornado Alley
 by Bob Hibbs 13 April 2006 

“Oh, God, it’s coming right at us,” I yelled at Margaret.

“It sounds like a freight train, just like they said,” she replied as we ducked six or eight steps inside to our concrete box “root cellar” which accesses onto the front driveway.

A fierce lightening storm produced a bright strike at that moment.  “It’s on the ground; there is debris showing in the cone,” I said mostly to myself for Margaret already was in the protected room.

The city tornado sirens had wailed several minutes earlier, just like dozens of times before when nothing other than strong wind shifts and rain happened. 

This storm had already included hail from pea to near walnut size which had made the deck and red driveway mostly white.  No real damage. 

I recall in 1967 when we lived six blocks away along Bloomington Street that we got hail the size of golf balls which ruined many roofs and dented most of the cars in Iowa City. 

This new storm produced a gust of wind that overturned a potted tree on the front drive waiting to be put in the ground as soon as the finish grading on an addition is complete.  The big-wheeled garbage can tipped over. 

We stood in the cellar listening to the radio for four or five minutes,  Repeated warnings for Iowa Citians to take cover. 

 “As close as it was when we saw it, it has to be safe for us by now; I’m going out side,” I said, again mostly to myself for Margaret was glued to the little battery-powered radio. 

As I exited to the west the neighbor’s house across Reno Street was lit and relit in rapid succession almost like those globes above a dance floor by lighting east of us reflecting off the siding into my face.  I’ve rarely seen such intense lightening, which literally kept the sky ablaze constantly. 

Next morning after an early appointment, Margaret and I returned across town via Riverside Drive and Iowa Avenue below Old Capitol before turning east on Jefferson.  Orientation groups passed in front us from the Anne T. Clarey Walkway onto the Pentacrest Campus. 

Margaret turned south on Dubuque Street, then east on Washington.  The utter devastation of a block-wide path clear through Iowa City began to settle in on us as we approached College Green Park.  St. Pat's Catholic Church lost a wall and its entire roof; no fire, but like a bombed out building. 

An obvious tornado to cut such a narrow path of such awful destruction, it must have touched down near Menards lumber on the far southwest edge of Iowa City, then ran northeast about three miles clear across town to near Regina Catholic Education Center in the northeast quadrant of town. 

Between Menards and Regina and a bit beyond, utter war zone conditions of tangled trees, debris, damaged structures, power lines and the other accouterments of urban life arranged in a jumble of horrid mess. 

We are so fortunate in two ways: not only are we safe and our home fully in tact although littered lightly with a thousand bits of building insulation, but our son who lives two block southeast of Regina also was spared immediate damage. 

“How lucky we are,” Margaret said as we turned off Rochester Avenue toward Reno Street after again going though the storm’s path of devastation in the Ralston Creek bottom near Seventh Avenue. 

“One for the history books,” I replied, shaking my head in disbelief.  “Next time, those sirens will sound far more threatening!”

At least five tornadoes tore through county

The National Weather Service said today that it was an F2 tornado that cut a 3½-mile long, one-third of a mile wide swath of destruction through the heart of Iowa City.

All told, at least five and perhaps six tornadoes touched down Thursday night in Johnson County alone, said National Weather Service meteorologist Donna Dubberke at a press conference at noon today.

The tornado's 150 mph winds wrought havoc on a line starting at the intersection of Highway 218 and Highway 1 and moving in a northeasterly direction for 3½ miles through downtown. The storm knocked out power to 6,000 customers last night, and MidAmerican Energy has restored service to all but 1,200 of those customers.

Despite the destruction, only a handful of injuries and no deaths were reported in Johnson County. University Hospitals treated 12 patients, 10 of whom have been treated and released. The last two remain at the hospital but with only minor injuries, said James Moody of Johnson County Emergency Management.

Mercy Hospital treated and released an additional 18 patients.

Iowa City Mayor Ross Wilburn praised the local response to the storm in both preventing loss of life and in getting to work on repairing the damage.

“This goes from the public, private sectors and to the media,” Wilburn said.

Wilburn continued the city’s call for the public to stay out of the way for the time being.

“Please give the crews a chance to get the work done,” Wilburn said.

He praised the Iowa City School District and superintendent Lane Plugge for holding classes today, with the exception of Horace Mann Elementary, which lost power.

“(Plugge) supported the decision to keep the kids in school…to keep them off the streets so crews can do their jobs,” Wilburn said.

While the storm did most of its residential damage to student rental housing at the heart of town, University of Iowa spokesman Steve Parrott said only about a dozen students used emergency housing offered by UI at the Iowa Memorial Union. Parrott said that was because most displaced students were taken in by friends and family.

“We feel very fortunate…that we got through with only very minor injuries to our students,” Parrott said.

A cost estimate of the damage was not immediately available, Moody said.

But as a result of the destruction, the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division declared a state of emergency covering Johnson, Jones and Muscatine counties.

The declaration enables state resources to be used to assist local responders and citizens. The Iowa National Guard, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Natural resources are aiding in the recovery effort.

It does not bring money for recovery efforts, said David Miller, Iowa Homeland Security administrator.

State teams were in Iowa City Friday to conduct a damage assessment, he said. Saturday, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be in town to perform their own assessment and see if the area is eligible for a presidential disaster declaration.

“If we receive the presidential disaster declaration, we’d be eligible for federal” loans and grants, Miller said.

FEMA will make its determination based on the level of uninsured loss and eligible expenses under federal programs like public assistance for damage to public infrastructure and individual assistance, Miller said.