Derecho grain bins

Grain bins like this were blown over across portions of Iowa and northern Illinois on Monday as a storm with extreme wind gusts unexpectedly hit the area. There was significant crop, tree and house damage along with bins in many areas.

When the wind finally stopped blowing Monday the clean-up began. It might take quite a while.

A storm ripped a swath through a large section of Iowa and northern Illinois, bringing with it straight-line winds of over 100 mph in some places and sustaining that wind for more than an hour. The type of storm is known as a derecho, and is relatively rare, although a somewhat similar storm hit some of the same areas in July of 2011.

For Ethan Crow, who farms near Marshalltown, there have been a few too many storms in recent years. Crow and his family have seen damage from both of those derecho events, as well as the tornado that ripped through Marshalltown in 2018 and another serious weather event in 2015.

“It’s insane. This is the fourth time in less than ten years,” he said.

Even for those who missed the previous disasters, the Aug. 10 event was bad enough.

“When it snaps trees off four feet above the ground you know it’s a serious wind,” said Matt Yates, who farms with his parents near Cedar Rapids He said several grain bins were destroyed. The one that had grain in it yet is standing, but has a damaged roof and the grain will need to be moved. A big shed came down on top of the combine and multiple tractors.

“We don’t have a big tractor for fall at the moment,” Yates said.

A livestock shed was also destroyed and there was serious crop damage.

“I don’t even know what to think about the crops yet,” Yates said. “It looks like the worst hail storm you could imagine. It laid the corn flat. The leaves looks shredded … It even hurt the beans.”

Luckily, he said, nobody was hurt and no livestock was lost.

Malea Licht and her husband, Mark, said they were fortunate to get by with a destroyed machine shed and other damage on their farm near Roland, in Central Iowa.

“Parts of the shed are a half mile away, and we want to make sure we get that picked up before harvest, said Licht, who serves as interim director of college relations and director of college relations for Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Mark is an extension agronomist for ISU.

She said crop conditions range from slightly lodged corn to completely flattened stalks.

“I feel so bad for those with much more damage,” Licht said. “We can replace everything that we lost.”

Ken Bernard, a farmer from LaSalle County in Illinois, was relieved the damage to his crops and buildings weren’t as severe as he thought it might be when the winds were raging Monday afternoon. The Northeastern Illinois farmer heard the storm forecasts so he and his son, Jim, had been in the yard making preparations.

“We tried to get some things under roof,” he said.

The father and son weathered the storm in the farm shop. “The buildings took it pretty good,” he said.

About five large trees were damaged in their yard and some corn was flattened. “In some spots about a third is broke off,” he said.

“We were pretty fortunate,” said Bernard, who crop farms with his parents and brother. The family also operate a purebred Herford operation that fared well in the storm. The farm was without power for a little more than eight hours and they were able to mend the electric fences.

“We were fortunate,” he said.

In Iowa, officials estimate that as much as 10 million acres of crops were damaged by the storm. Gov. Kim Reynolds issued disaster proclamations for 18 counties. As many as a 500,000 people were without electricity at one point and a large number were still without power days after the storm, thanks to downed power lines.

The storm began in South Dakota and Nebraska and went all the way to Ohio, a distance of more than 770 miles over about 14 hours, but Iowa appeared to catch the brunt of it, according to Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.

“That’s one thing that made this storm so unique,” Naig said. “It was so big … I think it is important for folks to understand the scale.”

That scale is one of both size and power. The storm covered a large swath of farmland and it did so with astonishing speed and power.

Right now farmers are just worried about getting power back and about cleaning up damaged or destroyed buildings and grain bins and homes and trees. There have been no reports of loss of life or of large-scale loss of livestock. But there are longer-term ramifications for those in the storm’s path.

There was significant crop damage in a relatively large area in the storm’s path. The loss of grain bins on farms, as well as of entire grain elevator businesses, could lead to storage issues this fall. Many livestock producers lost sheds and hoop buildings, meaning shelter for livestock could be an issue in some places.

And with harvest not far away, there may not be time to address many of those problems yet this summer.

There are also numerous personal stories. Yates said his father was sitting in a semi-truck when the storm hit. Crow and his grandfather were sitting in a pick-up truck at their sweet corn roadside stand as they watched the rain come at them sideways.

Once the wind stopped, they all started working on cleaning up the mess. Colfax area farmer Charles O’Roake stopped for a break in his clean-up efforts to take it all in.

“I just want to get 2020 over with,” he said.

IFT editors Jeff DeYoung and Phyllis Coulter contributed to this story.