Less than 10 minutes later, the tornado set its sights on the town of New Hartford. That’s where my chase partner Barry Hansen and I intercepted the tornado. As we came over a hill just south of town we saw a small tornado.
We grabbed our cameras and started rolling, thinking this was a huge find. We had no idea what was going on just to the north. The tornado we saw was, in fact a smaller vortex just southwest of the EF-5 tornado. We hit an east road just south of New Hartford and tried to get away.
By this time the chase was dead in the water. Law enforcement blocked off every road leading north and we were unable to continue the chase. It was at this point we turned our camera north and saw what we thought was a wall cloud. We had no idea at the time that was in fact a tornado more than a mile wide.
The twister had passed through the northern part of New Hartford, where a new housing development stood. Several home were wiped clean and two people lost their lives.
For more than an hour we continued our chase to the east, not knowing what this storm had done to Parkersburg and New Hartford. As we continued east, we found ourselves northeast of Waterloo in the Dunkerton area. The damage was extensive in the last populated area affected by this particular tornado.
We found homes damaged or destroyed. Some homes were only eight years old. That’s because they were built after an EF-3 moved through the same area on May 11th, 2000. We talked to a few people who all said the same thing, they had plenty of warning but were still in shock about what happened.
We continued east, now blanketed by heavy rain and eventually made it to Hazleton where we heard a tornado had struck. When we arrived we found the southern part of town in ruins. A separate tornado had touched down, heavily damaging some homes, snapping power poles and leveling mobile homes sitting in a business parking lot. Fortunately the mobile homes were not being used at the time and no one was seriously hurt.
This separate tornado was also a long track event, measuring EF-3 on the enhanced fujita scale.
When it was all over, 9 people were dead and countless lives were forever changed by this storm. It is not often tornadoes with this power roll through Iowa. The EF-5 that struck Parkersburg was just the 6th recorded in Iowa in the last 60 years.
The largest tornado was on the ground for 43 miles over the course of an hour. 70 people were injured and at least 200 homes were destroyed. The 9 deaths make this tornado the second deadliest in Iowa history, only behind the Charles City tornado of May 1968. That tornado killed 13 and left more than 450 injured.
Iowans never see the massive outbreaks that usually affect parts of the Great Plains. But in rare cases, we see isolated outbreaks like the one that hit on May 25th, 2008. A small portion of the state experienced two major tornadoes and a number of smaller ones.
I’m hoping to have one more look back on this tornado outbreak and the impact it’s had on Iowans and the weather community. But we need to keep the focus on chances of storms later this weekend. I hope you’ve enjoyed this special look back at one of the biggest tornado outbreaks in Iowa history. Later I hope to add a comprehensive look at the Flood of 2008.