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NWS explores tornado possibility

Published: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 11:50 a.m. CDT

OTTUMWA (MCT) — Tornado or not, the Wapello County area got slammed.

“We’ve been pretty lucky compared to what other people have lost,” said Joyce Smith of rural Ottumwa. “We had a whirlwind come through, it took our grain bin, a 20,000-bushel grain bin, blew it down the hill.”

Ottumwa emergency personnel, including Chief Tony Miller from the Ottumwa Fire Department, were out to take photographs of damage on Mary Street and at the Smith’s home off Bluegrass Road.

The bin was empty at the time. An equipment storage building was not.

“Our machine shed had the ... side torn out. It contained an auger, a tractor and a truck.”

“It’s a mess now,” Smith said.

But as for what specifically caused the damage, Ottumwans may not know until Tuesday: Was Wapello County hit by a tornado?

The National Weather Service storm damage survey team was going to be in Ottumwa Monday morning, said Miller. He would be available to show them around. But by mid-afternoon, the team was just leaving Centerville for Ottumwa and would likely stop to investigate damage along the way.

Everything was fine on the 300-acre Smith property when they left for town Sunday afternoon. As winds picked up, Smith said, local merchants seemed more concerned about public safety than product sales.

“We were in Wal-Mart when it happened. They locked us all in; they wouldn’t let us out.”

The Smiths, Joyce and Eudene, found their damaged property when they got back home from shopping in the late afternoon.

“Our [neighbor] said it sounded like a freight train came through. He only lost one tree.”

In fact, said the National Weather Service report, most of the damage updates they received spoke of downed trees. Though people swore they heard “freight train” sounds, straight-line winds accounted for most damage. The experts say similar roaring sounds can be created by other events: a continuous rumble of thunder, the pounding of hail and severe thunderstorm winds.

National Weather Service meteorologists were conducting a storm survey over southeast Iowa Monday after what they called “severe thunderstorms” produced damage Sunday afternoon.

The NWS survey team blamed straight-line winds for damage to a medical building in Oskaloosa, where 70-80 mph gusts tore a deck off. The preliminary survey also indicated that the building was not built to avoid wind damage, and that allowed the wind to peel the roof off.

The Lovilia area had reported a tornado. However, the damage survey team looks for evidence of tornadoes, like metal twisted around a tree. Instead, they found evidence of straight-line winds.

Yet those powerful winds were enough to damage mobile homes and tear down a Lovilia outbuilding.

— To follow Mark Newman on Twitter, check out @CourierMark


©2014 the Ottumwa Courier (Ottumwa, Iowa)

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