Rain, Rain, Rain
It may not be time to gather up the animals two-by-two, but it's close.
Thunderstorms dropped up to six inches of rain in the area in a dramatic three-hour period overnight Tuesday, flooding streets in Storm Lake so deep that some motorists became stranded in water too deep for police to push them out. Winds were clocked at up to 70 miles per hour, and at least one large tree was knocked down.
Rainfall was measured at 3-5 inches around the area, the worst of it in central Cherokee County to the west of Storm Lake, where over 6.3 inches cascaded down, and several gravel roads were washed out and closed. The Little Sioux River briefly crested above flood stage Wednesday, having risen about three feet since Friday.
With forecasts for more wet weather possible into Friday, Buena Vista County and much of the surrounding area was placed into a flash flood watch, currently set to expire today.
Weather experts blame a weather system that would be much more common for early spring in Iowa than usually hot and dry August. A nearly stationary front remains parked across the area, stirring repeated rounds of storminess that have already filled the subsoil profile to overflowing, flooded basements and caused concern among farmers beginning to look toward harvest.
As a result of the heavy rains and flooding, Governor Culver declared five counties as disaster areas yesterday, including Pocahontas and Palo Alto, directly east and northeast of Buena Vista County, and Webster County - the Fort Dodge area.
The rainfall in the Storm Lake area happened in about a three-hour span. A cloud system suspected of causing funnel clouds was also reported by the National Weather Service in northern BV County late Tuesday night, but no tornadoes were reported.
In Cherokee, power was knocked out in most of the city after construction wires at a water tower were knocked into power lines. Floodwaters were high enough to pour through some lower level windows, and residents were asked to stay in their homes until the storm passed.
In Holstein, the city was forced to bypass about 15,000 gallons of wastewater from a lift station into a ditch that flows into Battle Creek and on to the Maple River Wednesday morning, as the rain overwhelmed the collection system, Department of Natural Resources officials said.
Farm outbuildings, grain bins and trees were destroyed in Pocahontas County near Bradgate and Plover. It has not yet been determined whether a tornado may have touched down. Winds up to 80 miles per hour caused damages elsewhere in the county. Hail up to quarter-size was seen in LeMars, and inch-wide hail was reported in Webb. Residents of a senior citizens care facility were evacuated in Humboldt after water poured into the facility's lower level, threatening the electical systems.
In Fort Dodge, where the area has seen 14 inches of rain since last Friday, officials monitored levees that have been shored up. Residents near the Des Moines River have been warned that they may have to evacuate if more rain falls. The river was four feet over flood stage early Wednesday. A levee near the city's old hydroelectric dam had begun to give way earlier in the day, but it was shored up with rocks and sandbags.
According to the state medical examiner's office, a Postville man drowned Sunday in his mother's flooded basement in northeast Iowa after being overcome with carbon monoxide while pumping out water.
Some corn belt farmers are considering an early harvest, worried that stormy weather now could cause damage to corn plants already suffering from a dry, hot summer.
The long string of hot days prior to the storms had pushed corn growth about a week ahead of the average time, so harvest will be a little earlier this year for much of the country, agricultural economist Chris Hurt says.
Corn plants can stop growing because of stress from summer heat and drought conditions, said Roger Elmore, an Iowa State University corn specialist. Some farmers in the driest part of Iowa have considered an early harvest, but most of the state's farmers plan to wait.
"We've got another few weeks to go," he said.
Harvest times will vary between states and regions. If corn plants become too stressed in drought areas, they begin to die and need to be harvested, Hurt said.
"The plant does everything it can and then says, 'I've given up. I can't go any longer,'" he said.
Storms that swept through Midwestern states this week have brought much-needed rain, but in some spots they also caused the kind of damage Greenwell fears. Once corn is knocked down, it becomes more difficult to harvest.
"It's going to cut down yields," Elmore said.
One Storm Lake man said he was taking his flooded basement in stride. "It's hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, we were complaining about a drought. It seems like it's never going to stop raining," he said. "You can't predict mother nature, and we'll just have to deal with it as it comes and realize that it could always be a lot worse than we have it here."
* With reports from the Associated Press and National Weather Service.