13 years ago today an EF-5 tornado tore across eastern Iowa on Memorial Day weekend. It was the strongest tornado Iowa had seen since the Jordan tornado between Boone and Ames in 1976. There has not been a tornado rated as an EF-5 in Iowa since.
The tornado was on the ground for an astonishing 43 miles. It developed just south of Aplington, near the Grundy/Butler County line, a little after 4:45 PM and quickly grew in strength and size, reaching winds over 200 mph while it was 3/4 mile wide moving through Parkersburg. Nearly 200 homes were lost in Parkersburg, equivalent to a third of the town. The Aplington-Parkersburg High School sustained significant damage.
The strongest EF-4/EF-5 damage stretched from southwest of Parkersburg all the way to New Hartford where it caused more significant structural, tree, and farmland damage.
As the tornado continues to move to the east side of New Hartford, it weakened a bit, but continued its damage path as it moved east — to the north side of the Waterloo and Cedar Falls area. During this time, the supercell that had spawned the tornado produced significant straight line winds up to 100 mph with a 93 mph gusts measured at the Waterloo Airport.
From that point, the tornado re-intensified and grew to more than one mile wide as it moved to the north of Dunkerton and then lifted before entering Buchanan County. It was on the ground for a little over 1 hour.
The storm killed 9 people - 7 in Parkersburg, 1 west of New Hartford, and 1 north of New Hartford. 50 others were injured. The storm caused millions in damage.
An EF-5 is the highest rating a tornado can achieve, indicating wind speeds of over 200 mph. Since 1871, Iowa has had eleven F-5/EF-5 tornadoes - less than 1% of tornado occurrences. Ef-5s are not just incredibly rare in Iowa but also in the entire United States.
You can find the National Weather Service's full report on the storm here.
You can find other info on eastern Iowa tornadoes from that day here.
A note from Meteorologist Brandon Libby -
I now live in Parkersburg and it is remarkable how the town has bounced back from such a devastating storm. In my opinion, the town is thriving and in a lot of ways it is hard to even see the scars left behind by the tornado, but they are there.
This tornado was part of a larger severe weather outbreak across the Midwest, including other tornadoes in eastern Iowa.
On May 25, 2008, I was 13 years old living in a suburb of the Twin Cities in Hugo, MN. The same storm system dropped an EF-3 tornado that ripped through my neighborhood, destroying houses, and a killing a little boy while injuring 9 others. My house was left standing but with a great amount of damage.
I remember eating Taco Bell when the outdoor warning sirens sounded. I quickly looked out the window, seeing the darkest clouds in the sky that I have ever seen. From there, I looked to my left and saw the debris of houses being torn apart, swirling in the air, probably about 2 blocks down. I gasped. My mother saw the same thing and moments later it was a sprint to the basement.
As we were turning the corner, into our kitchen, we looked out on the deck to see our outdoor furniture and grill being pulled to the opposite side. Mid way down the stairs the power cut out and a quick glance out the basement window at the bottom of the stairs showed trees nearly being bent in half. We made it to our safe room OK.
We waited some time before emerging, only to see the devastation left behind. Here are some of the pictures my family took:
Not far from where my brother slept, a 2x4 had pierced the house and was laying on his bed. We were lucky to have made it to the basement. The fact that it was Memorial Day weekend and that some families were away on vacation probably lessened the death toll. While I have always been fascinated by the weather, this was the catalyst that really drove me to pursue my passion in meteorology. I find it so fascinating that I now live in the town of Parkersburg - both towns forever intertwined by May 25, 2008.
Please consider getting a weather radio and have multiple ways to receive alerts. DO NOT rely on tornado sirens. For more safety tips, click here.