Iowa tornadoes: More severe weather to hit an already ravaged Midwest

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds praised FEMA’s response Thursday as she sought a disaster declaration for multiple counties, saying at least 202 homes were destroyed by a series of tornadoes that raked the state.

Three separate powerful tornados carved long paths totalling 130 miles across Iowa on Tuesday according to Donna Dubberke, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Des Moines.

The tornado that destroyed much of Greenfield, Iowa, was a mile long and wreaked its devastation in about one minute, Dubberke said. Four people were killed in the city and about three dozen were injured.

And still more severe weather was moving across the Midwest, including places already damaged by this week’s storms.

The weather service’s Storm Prediction Center shows an enhanced severe storm risk late Thursday into Friday morning for much of Nebraska and western Iowa, including those areas hit by tornados on Tuesday after hurricane-force winds, large hail and torrential rain flooded streets and basements in parts of Nebraska.

The new risk for severe weather — including possible tornadoes — in Iowa will come “when people are sleeping,” warned NWS meteorologist Andrew Ansorge of Des Moines.

“A lot of these people have already experienced damage to their homes and property that might be hit again with rain and wind. Because of the damage already there, it won’t take much wind to inflict even more damage on these homes,” Ansorge said. “It’s just a bad deal all the way around.”

More severe weather also could hit Saturday and Sunday in parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas already ravaged by recent storms. An emergency was declared in Temple, Texas, after powerful storms ripped through the city of more than 90,000. Thousands lost power, Thursday’s classes were canceled and nearby Fort Cavazos reported debris blocking traffic at the Army installation.

Before Tuesday’s twister carved a path through Greenfield and sent family mementos flying far away, the deadliest tornado in 2024 killed three people in Logan County, Ohio on March 14. The Greenfield tornado set a new grim record as it obliterated homes, splintered trees and crumpled cars in the town of 2,000 about 55 miles (89 kilometers) southwest of Des Moines. The twister also crumpled massive power-producing wind turbines outside the city. It was initially rated at least an EF-3, but could be determined even more powerful after a full ground survey.

It was so destructive that it took authorities more than a day to account for the area’s residents, and Iowa’s Department of Public Safety said the number of injured is likely even higher. Officials haven’t yet released the names of the Greenfield victims.

A fifth person was killed Tuesday about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Greenfield when her car was blown off the road in a tornado, according to the Adams County Sheriff’s Office. Monica Zamarron, 46, died in the crash Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

Gov. Reynolds requested an expedited presidential disaster declaration for those Iowa counties that sustained significant damage. EMA Administrator Deanne Criswell joined her at the news conference in Greenfield.

Digging through a debris field that used to be their home in Greenfield, Kimberly Ergish and her husband searched for family photos and other salvageable items. There wasn’t much left. The reality of having their house destroyed in seconds hadn’t really set in.

“If it weren’t for all the bumps and bruises and the achy bones, I would think that it didn’t happen,” Ergish said.

This is a historically busy tornado season in the U.S., in an era when climate change is heightening the severity of storms around the world. April had the country’s second-highest number of tornadoes on record.

Through Tuesday, 859 tornadoes had been confirmed this year, 27% more than the U.S. sees on average, according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Iowa has so far recorded the most, with 81 confirmed twisters.

On Tuesday alone, the National Weather Service said it received 23 tornado reports, with 21 in Iowa.

The Greenfield tornado appeared to have been on the ground for more than 40 miles (64 kilometers), AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jon Porter said. A satellite photo taken by a BlackSky Technology shows where the twister gouged a nearly straight path of destruction through the town, just south of Greenfield’s center square.

“Debris was lifted thousands of feet in the air and ended up falling to the ground several counties away from Greenfield. That’s evidence of just how intense and deadly this tornado was,” Porter said.

About 90 miles (145 kilometers) away, in Ames, Iowa, Nicole Banner found a yellowed page declaring “This Book is the Property of the Greenfield Community School District” stuck to her garage door like a Post-It note. “We just couldn’t believe it had traveled that far,” she said.

Greenfield’s 25-bed hospital was so damaged that at least a dozen injured people had to be taken elsewhere. Hospital officials said in a Facebook post Wednesday that they’ll remain closed and full repairs could take months. Meanwhile, an urgent care clinic was set up at the elementary school, with primary care services to start there Thursday, the post said.

Roseann Freeland had waited until the last minute to rush with her husband to a concrete room in their basement. Seconds after the twister passed, they opened the door “and you could just see daylight,” Freeland said. “I just lost it. I just totally lost it.”

—Hannah Fingerhut and Margery A. Beck, Associated Press

Steve Karnowski, Trisha Ahmed, Heather Hollingsworth and Jim Salter, AP writers, contributed to this report.

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