Severe weather outbreak in Iowa creates questions for Nebraska


April 27th, 2012

Thurman, IA – As we enter the spring and summer seasons, it always remains a possibility: severe weather. Nearly two weeks ago, Thurman, Iowa, located nearly 40 miles southeast of Omaha, was struck by a tornado. The results were devastating to the small community. NET reporter Ben Bohall pays a visit to the town, and takes a look at what Nebraskans can expect, if a similar storm were to occur here.

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The small town of Thurman was struck by an EF2 tornado April 14th, 2012, damaging or destroying an estimated 75 percent of buildings. (Photo by Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News)

Thurman, Iowa resident Brandy Blake looked on woefully at what was left of her mother’s home. One side of the doublewide trailer had been ripped off, lying in fragments across her yard.

“It’s just a mess. If they would have been home, I don’t think they would have made it,” Blake said. “It completely destroyed this back end of the house. All but two of the windows were blown in. All of her furniture, electronics – all of it is destroyed.”

Nearby resident Carl Bickford said it was over almost as quickly as it began.

“When the house started rocking, I got out of the bed,” he said. “I got around the bed and into the closet where my wife was at. I asked her if she was OK, because at about the same time I could hear all the windows smash out. Thirty seconds and it was over.”

Thurman, IA. (Photo by Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News)

Thurman, a small town in western Iowa, was hit by a category EF-2 Tornado on April 14th. Wind speeds ranging from 113 to 157 miles per hour rocked the homes of the town’s roughly 229 residents that Saturday night; while there were no fatalities, town officials estimated that 75 percent of homes and businesses were either damaged or destroyed by the storm.

For city councilwoman Mary Kesterson, the experience was a surreal one.

“I don’t know if there was really a word to describe it,” she said. “It just happened so fast.”

That EF-2 was one of an estimated 15 tornados that touched down in parts of both Iowa and Nebraska that weekend.

What would you do in a similar situation? If you woke to the sound of warning sirens nearby in the middle of the night, would you bother getting up and seeking shelter, or think it was just another false alarm?

“The most dangerous tornadic activity, where we can see some significant loss of life, occurs in that post 10 o’clock-into the early morning hours, when a lot of people are sleeping and are not in tune with the severe weather alerts,” said Al Dutcher, a state climatologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Carl Bedford, whose home was struck by a tornado April 14th, 2012, said it was over almost as quickly as it began. (Photo by Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News)

Click here to see a slideshow of images from Thurman, IA.

That timeframe would also place people in one of the most vulnerable locations in a home: the bedroom, a room that hasn’t typically been supported well, structurally speaking, Dutcher said. Most bedrooms would also have one or two windows, another hazard in the advent of a tornado.

It’s been no secret that spring has arrived a little early here in Nebraska. It might only be April, but it hasn’t been uncommon for temperatures to climb into the upper 80s. According to Dutcher, that’s a factor in terms of what we might predict for storms in the near future.

“Everything seems to be about a month ahead in terms of temperatures,” he said. “We’ve already seen a much earlier start to our severe weather season. It does not mean this is going to be a bad severe weather season all the way through, it just means everything has been shifted forward. So our severe weather season may end early, it may continue. We’re just going to have to wait and see.”

Either way, Dutcher said, it’s crucial to pay attention to weather warnings, and be ready for just about anything.

“Usually when it occurs, it occurs in a very rapid and dynamic fashion,” he said. “That’s what can tend to catch people by surprise. Things look so great, and then in ten to 15 minutes, we have a massive thunderstorm that’s developed and begins to move into an area. It’s that initial process on the formation of these tornados that catches a lot of people by surprise.”

That’s an observation echoed by Thurman’s mayor, Rod Umphreys. He attributed no one being killed or seriously hurt during that weekend’s tornado to weather alerts and the town’s warning sirens, even on a day where everything seemed tranquil.

“They put out all these warnings the day before, two days before. You sit there and think, ‘Yeah, well, OK, it’s going to happen in Oklahoma,'” he said. “It didn’t seem like tornado weather. It was in the low 60s, it wasn’t really warm, it was just dreary all day long. Nobody really expected much.”

“It was that quick,” Umphreys continued. “And the town’s devastated, because of it (happening) that quickly.”

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