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Midwest Derecho: Through The Eyes of Iowans

On August 10, 2020, a widespread line of destructive winds know as a derecho devastated neighborhoods, tore through crops, and snapped century old trees in half within seconds.

“The winds were loud in themselves,” said Raymond Siddell, Board President for Families Helping Families of Iowa and Cedar Rapids resident.  “I think what startles you more is when you start to see the debris, and you hear it hit the building that you’re in.”


The storm system left behind a trail of damage for more than 750 miles from Iowa to Ohio within 14 hours.

“Trees through their bedrooms, their living rooms, their kitchens, people lost not only their house but their vehicles,” Siddell said.  “The cleanup is…it’s just…it’s amazing how long it’s taking, I mean of course there’s a lot, but it still looks like a warzone today.”

Homes sustain major damage from the derecho on August 10, 2020, in Cedar Rapids, IA. PHOTO: Katharine Tharp

For those in its direct path, it was a worst nightmare scenario as some of the most powerful winds gusted up to 140 miles per hour.

“It was the most terrified I have been, I know that now although that was not the feeling that I was operating with when I was in the storm,” described Cedar Rapids resident Akwi Nji, who was at home when the storm moved through her neighborhood.

After the storm moved through Cedar Rapids, IA, many streets and yards were filled with trees both snapped in half and uprooted from the ground. PHOTO: Evan Hindman

Millions were left in the dark initially, with hundreds of thousands of power outages across Iowa alone.

“We had no power, we had no access to cell service, no access to any way to communicate to other people besides by foot, by bicycle, in some cases by car but that was tricky,” Nji said.

Homeowners struggled to get back on their feet, with efforts to remove millions of pounds of debris.  But based on the extent of damage to homes, some people were displaced.

“People now, they drive by and they think that house was unscathed, and they don’t realize that house has undergone tens and tens of thousands of dollars of damage,” Nji said.  “To some degree, a lot of this damage, insurance won’t necessarily cover it at this point.”

Unfortunately, tens of thousands of Iowans still remain without power more than a week later, with resources slowly arriving across the state.

“We’ve been going around and offering things to people who still don’t have power,” said Keleen Warren from Swisher, IA, owner of True Heart Equine Enrichment Center.  “I’ve had friends showering at my house and feeding them and there’s still just people who are outside with no resources like I have to offer my friends cause they don’t have people who can offer them anything.  We pretty much need anyone and everyone who’s able to come help at this moment, we still need it.”

The cleanup continues for millions of people across the Hawkeye State. PHOTO: Kelee Warren

Business owners already faced with challenges from the pandemic have also been picking up the pieces, some able to reopen their doors while others continue to struggle.

“Even just in our area in Cedar Rapids we have restaurants shutting down that were little family Mom and Pop stores that can’t compete with the big chains anymore and suddenly it’s made them impossible to even forge with their current cliental that’s been keeping them going this whole time,” Warren said.

The Hawkeye State suffered substantial impacts to grain storage and crops as well, with millions of acres of corn and soybeans damaged or destroyed, setting back farmers for this season and for some, years to come.

“The downside of this whole scenario was we were looking at outstanding crop prospects, one of the best crops we’ve had in recent years,” said Jim Rebhuhn who works with Hertz Farm Management in Mt. Vernon, IA.

Efforts begun to clean up damage in Martelle, IA. PHOTO: Jim Rebhuhn

But while it will be a long road to recovery, many are thankful that the amount of storm related deaths & injuries remains low.

“There’s been a lot of resiliency I think within many of these communities,” Rebhuhn said.  “They’ve all rolled up their sleeves and worked together, and there’s been a real sense of comradery.”

Kids in Cedar Rapids, IA, sit in front of their house giving out lemonade and providing a place others can charge their phones. PHOTO: Lisa Harvey

“It’s been amazing and even when you’re not expecting it,”  Warren added.  “And you pay it forward, it’s been bouncing right back.”

Interested in learning more about how you can assist those in need across Iowa? Here are some links with details on how you can donate, volunteer, or provide assistance to those impacted:

Iowa Derecho Storm Resource Page on Facebook

United Way of East Central Iowa

Iowa Giving Crew

United Way of Johnson & Washington Counties

Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation

Red Cross

Linn Area Partners Active in Disaster

About the author
Meredith is a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist as designated by the American Meteorological Society.  She was born and raised in Cleveland but has worked from coast to coast covering almost every type of weather.  Meredith is a weather, space, and STEM journalist and has been live out in the field during destructive tropical storms on the Gulf Coast of Florida, raging wildfires in Southern Cali... Load Morefornia, and covered the wreckage from tornadoes in the Great Plains. In 2009, she reported on the damaging hail storm during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and in 2017, the historic California winter storms that produced record rain totals and devastating flash flooding.  Prior to joining WeatherNation, Meredith worked at KEYT/KKFX in Santa Barbara, CA, KOTA-TV in Rapid City, SD, WWSB-TV in Sarasota, FL, and began her career as an intern at WGN-TV in Chicago.  She was Santa Barbara's "Favorite Weathercaster of the Year" in 2016 and the Community Partner of the Year in 2017 for her volunteer work with Make-A-Wish Tri-Counties and awarded with the 2018 Valparaiso University Alumni Association First Decade Achievement Award. Meredith is the current chair of the American Meteorological Society's Station Scientist Committee, which focuses on raising greater awareness & outreach when it comes to science education for viewers.  She's also an accomplished journalist, producing weather and science stories including rocket launches at Vandenberg Air Force Base and the new GOES-16 satellite and it's impacts on weather forecasting.  Meredith was personally invited by NASA's Johnson Space Center to interview astronauts on the International Space Station and was the only meteorologist in the nation to do an exclusive report accompanying the GOES-West satellite from Colorado to Florida, reporting on and covering it's launch in 2018.  Meredith's also worked on features that took her paragliding along the coast, white water rafting in Northern California, learning to surf in the Pacific Ocean, and how to be an aerial photographer while flying a single engine plane! Say hi on Facebook, Twitter, & LinkedIn!