It was 7 years ago tonight that a swarm of tornadoes struck eastern Iowa. When it was over, a dozen tornadoes had touched down in Iowa, the strongest one hitting the heart of downtown Iowa City. Here’s a breakdown of what happened on the night of April 13th, 2006.
The first tornado touched down in Tama County near Toledo, followed by two more near Marion and Van Horne in Linn and Benton County respectively.
From there a pair of supercells began taking over the storm complex. One moving northeast into Jones County and the other diving south towards Johnson County.
The cell which moved into Jones County spawned a F-1 tornado near Anamosa. This tornado injured at least one person as it destroyed a mobile home, and many other structures.
But the biggest damage was done in Iowa City. Just outside of town, spotters noticed rotation in the storm. It was difficult to see at times because it was dark and spotters were relying heavily on radar signatures and lightning flashes to illuminate the storm.
Our Storm Chaser Ben McMillan was among those who saw the storm strike. You can see the video of the tornado here.
Just before entering the city, the first report of a tornado on the ground was reported. It made a direct hit on the city, tracking more than four miles on the ground. When it was all over, more than 1,000 structures were damaged or destroyed and more than 30 people were hurt. Fortunately, no one was killed by this tornado which was rated a high-end F-2 twister.
As you can see in the image above, extensive damage was done to Saint Patrick’s Church in Iowa City. Several other structures including historic homes and sororities were damaged or destroyed by the tornado.
Besides law enforcement, the National Guard was mobilized in order to prevent looting in the downtown district. Crews also scrambled to rescue several people trapped in the rubble. But again, no one was killed.
The University of Iowa also sustained damage, forcing the campus to shut down the following day, a rare occurrence. In fact, this was the first tornado on record to strike the University of Iowa campus. A state of emergency was declared the following day.
Overall the outcome of this disaster was a absolute miracle. It was a Thursday Night, a very popular night in downtown Iowa City with so many out and about at the bars and other establishments. Somehow, this did not lead to a major loss of life. Instead, the storm did considerable damage which took years to recover from, but it did not take a single life.
A lot can be said of the work done by emergency personnel, the National Weather Service, on-air meteorologists, spotters and anyone else I’m leaving out that warned the public in order to protect them. This is a classic example of “it could have been a lot worse.” It also serves as an example of how to protect a city from a tornado threat when many more people are out and likely not paying attention to the weather. It’s something that serves as a fantastic lesson to other cities across Tornado Alley.