On This Date in Iowa Weather History – March 13, 1990

March 13, 1990: A devastating tornado outbreak brought a total of 59 confirmed tornadoes across Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa (See Figure 1 Below).  The tornado outbreak brought two F5 tornadoes and two F4 tornadoes across the central United States (See Table Below). One of the F5 tornadoes was the historic Hesston, Kansas tornado.  Across Iowa, multiple severe thunderstorms swept across the state and produced at least 14 tornadoes, including an F4 which struck areas around Prairieburg and Worthington, Iowa and an F2 which injured 15 people and produced 6 million dollars in damage in and around Ankeny, Iowa. Hail reports ranged up to golf ball size near Elvira and wind gusts in excess of 75 mph were reported around Little Sioux and Logan. This was part of a wild stretch of weather in early to mid March of 1990 that saw a significant ice storm followed by several severe weather and tornado outbreaks then a big snow storm, all in a nine day stretch!


March 13, 1990 Tornado Outbreak.

Figure 1: March 13, 1990 Tornado Outbreak.









NWS Des Moines Decision Support Services

The National Weather Service continues to provide decision support services (DSS) for specific events and/or incidents to partners and stakeholders throughout the year. Most DSS provided is for scheduled events such as county fairs, races, parades, concerts, and even RAGBRAI. Occasionally, the NWS will be asked upon to provide DSS for emergency incidents including one recent event that occurred in Graettinger, Iowa (Palo Alto County) when a train derailed on the morning of March 10, 2017.  A total of 27 cars where involved with the train derailment in which a few were loaded with alcohol and was unfortunately set ablaze (See image below).   The Palo Alto Emergency Management requested daily DSS briefings which included highlights of upcoming weather, hourly forecast graph, a detailed 5-day text forecast, and resources (See Figure 1).   The briefings finally ceased by Wednesday March 15th and this incident is just one of several examples on the DSS that the NWS provides to their partners. 
NWS Decision Support Services Include (but not limited to): 
  • Weather briefings provided at designated times and through requested formats including phone calls, emails, video conferences and on-site deployments
  • NWS maintains a constant weather watch for the event or incident
  • If hazardous weather is imminent, the NWS will contact the provided point of contact(s)
  • Support provided for your requested impact and decision making thresholds
  • Location specific situational awareness webpage
Last summer, the NWS deployed a new DSS Calendar Tool to aid in the NWS Des Moines partner support.   Requests can be made by NWS partners and once a request is received and details of the DSS is finalized, then the event/incident is listed in the DSS Calendar.  The NWS Des Moines also has several Decision Support Pages available for anyone to use:  NWS Des Moines Decision Support Page.  The DSS varies from severewinter, fire weather and flooding. Radar, satellite, current watches and warnings, webcams, road conditions, and the latest observations are all available on the aforementioned links.  
KCAU-TV/Nexstar Media Group

KCAU-TV/Nexstar Media Group


Figure 1: Example of the decision support services provided to the Palo Alto Emergency Management for the Graettinger, Iowa Train Derailment in March 2017.

Blog post by Kenny Podrazik, Meteorologist


Spring Fire Weather Update

The recent stretch of unseasonably warm and dry weather forced a slightly earlier start to the 2017 fire weather season for much of Iowa.  Fire weather planning forecasts and a daily Grassland Fire Danger map are displayed on the fire weather page of our website as is the current Annual Operating Plan. 

Late last fall there was a re-design of the spot forecast request page with a few additional tweaks being made over the winter.  The spot request page is Google based now and overall is easier to use than the old page. However, there are some things to keep in mind.  Since the spot request page is only used by government agencies and those with government contracts, most of these changes will not impact the majority of customers that use the fire weather page.  Training on the new spot page is provided by clicking on the link within the fire weather page.


In other fire weather news, there have been studies done on the Grassland Fire Danger Index in particular, how it relates to when we are issuing Red Flag Warnings based on fuels and meteorological parameters.  There was confirmation that the ranges for the categories, in particular the very high and extreme categories, needed some adjusting for the Plains.  Changes were made based on where tall grass, short grass and mixed grass prairies exists and a proposal is being worked on to not only adopt these changes but to have all central region offices run the Grassland Fire Danger Index for their areas and see if this is a better tool at determining a grassland danger threat.

To view the fire weather forecasts, fire weather planning tools and the 2017 Annual Operating, please visit the National Weather Service website at: http://www.weather.gov/dmx/fire

Blog post by Frank Boksa, Meteorologist

On this Date in Iowa Weather History: 1959 Girl’s State Basketball Winter Storm

On March 14-16, 1959, a major winter storm struck Iowa as a potent low pressure center moved east northeast out of Kansas into central Illinois resulting in 6 deaths and 1 injury. Precipitation began in southern Iowa as rain on the morning of the 14th then started to switch to a heavy wet snow by afternoon. The heaviest snowfall occurred overnight on the 14th-15th, with 4 inches or more falling in a wide swath from southwest to northeast across the state and some areas within that band receiving 8 to 10 inches. The highest reported storm total snowfall accumulations included 12.5 inches at New Hampton, 12.0 inches at Cresco, and 10.0 inches at Clarion, Fayette, and Fort Dodge. Winds gusting to as high as 60 mph caused severe blowing and drifting of the snow, commonly producing drifts up to 10 feet deep. There were even reports in northeastern Iowa with drifts as deep as 15 feet! Across about the southern half of the state, the heavy snow remained very wet and froze to all surfaces. As a result, thousands of trees, utility poles and lines were snapped or heavily damaged. Even after the heavy snow ended on the 15th, frozen surfaces and high winds continued to make travel impossible across most of the state. In fact, Des Moines and Dubuque authorities prohibited any travel to or from their cities. Also in Des Moines, there were 5,000 basketball fans attending the girls state tournament that spent the night in the Veterans Memorial Stadium building.


NWS Des Moines Participates in the Girls in Science Festival

For the second year in a row, the NWS DMX has participated in the Girls in Science Festival held annually at the Science Center of Iowa. The goal of the festival is for girls of all ages to explore a variety of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers and connect with female role models and mentors. It is one of several STEM events held throughout the year for girls to meet successful women scientists and be encouraged to pursue STEM careers.

This year Senior Meteorologist Mindy Beerends and 3 female ISU Meteorology students teamed together to staff the NWS booth at the event. Several different science experiments were available for the girls to learn about the weather and the role science plays in everyday weather phenomena. Girls were able to see how clouds hold water and then make rain when they become filled with too much water by using a glass filled with water, a shaving cream cloud, and then additional food-colored water was added. When the shaving cream cloud could no longer hold the additional water, the colored water rained down beneath the shaving cream cloud. Another experiment involved girls learning about how the rotation of the earth causes a curvature in the winds known as the Coriolis Effect. This force causes objects such as the wind to be deflected toward the right in the northern hemisphere, and toward the left in the southern hemisphere. Girls also learned about evaporative cooling effects and the wind chill by using hand sanitizer and a fan blown on their hands.

Several little budding scientists had fun with all the experiments and really enjoyed making the clouds and rain; a few artists were noted as well using the colored water! Meteorology as a career was also highlighted when Mindy gave a presentation in a breakout session discussing her journey to becoming a STEM professional. Her presentation discussed how she became interested in weather, how she chose where to go to school, and how she started her career in the NWS. Additionally the girls learned what a meteorologist in the NWS does, and what specialty STEM careers are available in the NWS such as a hurricane specialist flying through hurricanes to help with the forecast and tracking, or an incident meteorologist forecasting weather conditions for wild fires while being stationed at the firefighter camp of the wild fire. Hopefully many of the girls attending were able to continue their interests in science, and be inspired to pursue a STEM career.


Blog post by Mindy Beerends, Lead Forecaster

On This Date In Iowa Weather History – January 28-30, 1909 Blizzard

1909: A very severe blizzard struck the majority of Iowa from January 28-30, 1909. The storm began with light rain during the day on the 28th then changed to heavy rain that evening and to snow overnight. Very strong northwest winds whipped the snow into large drifts, reduced visibility to near zero, damaged homes and businesses, broke windows, and blew down thousands of windmills, utility poles, and outbuildings. Temperatures plummeted as the northwest winds kicked up with readings at Audubon plummeting from 40°F to -8°F in less than 24 hours. The highest winds occurred during the early morning hours on the 29th with gusts of 60 to 75 mph across portions of western Iowa including a peak of 72 mph at Sioux City. Thousands of livestock died from exposure as many would not face the storm to seek shelter. Many observers across about the northwestern two thirds of Iowa noted that this was the worst storm in several decades. 


Taken from the 1909 Iowa Annual Climate Summary. Full page is below.


On This Date In Iowa Weather History – 1991 Halloween Storm

1991: A major winter storm pounded the upper Midwest from October 30th into November 2nd with some of the most severe effects occurring on Halloween. Snow moved into southern Iowa on the afternoon of the 30th and changed to mixed precipitation and ice on the morning of the 31st and continuing into late afternoon on November 1st. Total ice accumulations ranged from 1 to 2 inches from southwest into north central Iowa and 2 to 3 inches across southern and southeast Minnesota. In northwest Iowa, the precipitation fell as all snow. Total snow accumulations of 8 inches or more blanketed the area with 15.0 inches falling at Estherville. Stong winds produced blizzard conditions into November 2nd. The damage and hazardous travel conditions were so severe and extensive that 52 of the 99 counties in Iowa were declared disaster areas. Highways and interstates were closed across most of the state and Halloween festivities were cancelled at many locations. As the storm system moved further northeast it dumped 36.9 inches of snow at Duluth which, at the time, was the largest storm total snowfall accumulation on record in Minnesota until it was surpassed in 1994. 

Extreme cold followed the crippling Halloween Storm from November 4-8, 1991.  With the fresh snow pack in place, on November 4th nearly every reporting station in the state fell into the single digits and remarkably some western stations reported their earliest subzero temperatures on record, including Sioux City where the low was -3°F. Des Moines and Waterloo both established daily records with a low of 4°F. The lowest temperatures reported on the morning of the 4th included -7°F at Sioux Rapids, -9°F at Hawarden, -10°F at Sheldon, and -11°F at Cherokee. Amazingly, even colder weather would settle across Iowa a few days later with nearly the entire state falling below zero on the mornings of November 7th and 8th.  On the 7th many stations set daily record lows and at numerous locations this is the earliest date on record on which the temperature has fallen below zero, including at Des Moines where the low was -3°F. The lowest reported temperatures in Iowa that morning included -12°F at Audubon, -13°F at Perry, -14°F at Le Mars, -15°F at Sheldon, -16°F at Guthrie Center, -17°F at Cherokee, and -19°F at Hawarden.  On the morning of the 8th reported low temperatures included -2°F at Burlington, -8°F at Bedford and Grinnell, -11°F at Sac City, -12°F at Atlantic and Le Mars, -13°F at Cherokee and Perry, and -14°F at Guthrie Center.


Other Stories or Resources on the 1991 Halloween Winter Storm/Blizzard 




http://www.weather.gov/dlh/1991halloweenblizzard (NWS WFO Duluth)

http://www.weather.gov/arx/halloween1991 (NWS WFO La Crosse)


On this Date in Iowa Weather History – 1997

October 25-26, 1997

A major winter storm moved into western Iowa just before midnight on October 25th and spread across about the southeastern two thirds of the state on the 26th. Two bands of heavy snow developed, one extending from Council Bluffs northeast through Boone and the other extending from northern Ringgold County northeast to around Cedar Rapids. The heaviest snowfall accumulations included 11.3 inches at Knoxville and an amazing 13.0 inches southwest of Mineola in Pottawattamie County. Electricity was lost to tens of thousands of homes and businesses in central and southern Iowa as snow laden trees fell onto power lines. This was the most significant heavy snow so early in the season in Iowa since the storm of October 16-17, 1898. On the morning of the 27th temperatures plummeted, with the aid of the fresh snow pack on the ground, bottoming out at 9 F at Atlantic and Guthrie Center which was the coldest Iowa temperature recorded so early in the season since 1972. While this system produced nearly all of the snow that fell during the month of October 1997, it was still enough to make it the third-snowiest October on record in Iowa only behind those of 1898 and 1925.

New DSS Events Calendar Tool to Aid NWS Des Moines Partner Support

NWS DMX has been providing support for many partners through our Decision Support Services (DSS) for several years, and this year has a new tool to help with this support, the DSS Events Calendar. This tool is being rolled out across the Central Region NWS offices so each office has a consistent baseline for partner support. The calendar works by NWS partners such as Emergency Managers (EMs) providing input about their events through a web-based form. This information is then organized into a web-based calendar so that our office and meteorologists are aware of each event being held across our county warning area. These events tend to be outdoor events that gather a large attendance which are most vulnerable to the impacts of weather, and more specifically severe weather. 

Many days several events are ongoing across Central Iowa with as many as 15 to 20 on one of the busier days. NWS DMX meteorologists stay aware of these locations while issuing warnings and can place special statements in the severe warnings about the outdoor event locations that may be occurring in a warned area. The event location is included in the input and then is directly loaded into the office computer system used to issue warnings, so that these event locations can be included in a warning if necessary.

County Emergency Managers maintain contact with our office throughout the event as well, by logging into a chat program or via the phone to obtain the latest information about any threatening weather. If requested by an EM, NWS DMX will also provide a localized briefing detailing any hazardous weather that may be expected throughout the duration of the event. One example is a video briefing held with the Jasper County Emergency Management officials for high-attendance races held at the Iowa Speedway, another example is a daily email briefing during RABGRAI provided to public safety officials, County EMs, neighboring NWS office management, and regional NWS management.

This tool has allowed NWS DMX to streamline its operations regarding event support to the local county officials, helped NWS DMX meteorologists to maintain awareness of these large events in case hazardous weather is approaching, and help keep everyone safe so they can enjoy these events to their fullest.

If you have weather hazard concerns for an event, please contact your county emergency coordinator who will work with the National Weather Service before and during impactful weather conditions.


Blog post by Mindy Beerends, Senior Forecaster, NWS Des Moines