LOOKING BACK: A Monster Strikes Parkersburg

On May 25th, 2008, one of the most powerful tornadoes ever seen set its sights on Parkersburg.  Unlike other monster tornadoes of the past, the people in the town of less than 2,000 had plenty of time to prepare.  But as one meteorologist said to me after the storm, this was a tornado so strong, a basement wouldn’t save everyone.

This video was captured by Parkesburg firefighters just before it reached the town that Sunday Afternoon.

You can see the sheer size of the vortex at this time, packing winds over 200mph.  Seconds later, the tornado struck the town… just before 5:00pm.  The good news was this tornado struck 37 minutes after a tornado warning was issued and 11 minutes after spotters confirmed a tornado was on the ground and heading for Parkersburg.

Bottom line is people had time, but like any other emergency situation, not everyone got the message.

2159zRefPburg The image to the right is the Des Moines NEXRAD image taken at about the time the tornado entered Parkersburg.  You can see a very pronounced hook on the end of the storm, giving a strong indication that a large tornado is on the ground.

It’s hard to imagine the power of the strongest winds in the world because virtually nothing survives.  But in this case, something did.  A valuable piece of video that in my mind goes down as some of the greatest tornado video ever captured.

The video to the left is from a bank’s drive up ATM.  A fish-eye security camera happens to point at a house when no one is in front of the camera.  Because the camera was heavily embedded in concrete, the electronic eye and the footage it captured survived the storm. 

It shows in a matter of seconds the power of an EF-5 tornado and how quickly it can take many homes away with virtually no indication a structure once stood there.

After just a couple of minutes, the tornado was gone.  But the people of Parkersburg were left stunned, trapped, and in some cases, dead. 7 people lost their lives in the storm.  Most were found dead in the rubble, others later died in the hospital as a result of their injuries.

IMG_6398 An aerial view captured by iowahelicopter.com shows the scope of the devastation in Parkersburg.  The image to the right is an aerial shot looking into town right down the path the tornado took.

In some cases, foundations were wiped clean of debris and basement walls collapsed into the hole left behind.  That and a combination of the tiny size of debris gave meteorologist a clear indication that this tornado reached EF-5 intensity in the heart of Parkersburg.

The ranking makes this tornado the 6th in Iowa history to reach the top of the National Weather Service intensity scale.  But the storm was not done yet.  The tornado had other targets in its path, including the town of New Hartford. 

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the rest of this tornado’s path and also look at another powerful tornado that touched down and is often forgotten in the shadow of this monster.

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