April showers might bring May flowers, but spring in Iowa can also bring floods, thunderstorms and tornadoes, sometimes simultaneously. Here's what you need to know about the potential for severe weather over the next few months.
Chances are you learned about Iowa's location in Tornado Alley if you grew up in the Cyclone State. While Tornado Alley is not officially recognized by the National Weather Service (NWS), it's commonly used to describe a central area of the United States where tornadoes occur more frequently. There were 42 tornadoes in Iowa in 2022 -- 34 of those happened in the spring -- and Iowa experienced its first January tornado since 1967 this year when a funnel touched down northeast of Williamsburg.
When a tornado siren is activated during a tornado warning, take shelter immediately in a windowless room like a basement or bathroom. Make sure you know where the severe weather shelter area is located in your building.
Pull over and park if you are driving and debris begins flying around your vehicle. Make sure your seatbelt is buckled, keep your head below the windows and cover it with your hands or a blanket if possible. If you can exit the car safely, find a ditch or area lower than the road, lie down and cover your head.
Severe Weather Awareness Week
The NWS has designated March 27-31 as Severe Weather Awareness Week, an annual opportunity to increase awareness of severe weather that often includes a statewide tornado drill.
If you can hear thunder, lightning is close enough to hurt or even kill. If you are outside or have outdoor activities planned, postpone and take shelter immediately in a fully enclosed building -- or car with a metal top if you can't make it to a building -- even if it's not raining. Shelter in place until at least 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder.
Don't use plumbing fixtures like showers or washing machines during the storm as water conducts electricity. Avoid metal objects like golf clubs and tools, and stay away from tall objects like trees and poles if you are still outside. Unless it's an emergency, don't use corded electronic devices -- stick to a cordless phone, cell phone or laptop if possible.
Though the destructive wind storm that tore through Iowa in 2020 did not happen in the spring, 70% of all derechos in North America take place from May to August. The NWS does not issue derecho warnings as derechos are defined as wind events produced by severe thunderstorms, therefore a severe thunderstorm warning will be issued if a derecho is approaching. Safety guidelines for derechos are the same as for thunderstorms.
Costly and dangerous, floods are among the most frequent natural disasters. Floods can occur after heavy rain saturates the ground and flash floods can happen when water rises rapidly along a stream or low area. Those living in areas prone to flooding should keep emergency supplies on hand and be prepared to evacuate quickly.
Seek higher ground if a flash flood warning is issued in your area. Six inches of fast-moving water can knock you off your feet and cars can be swept away in less than two feet of moving water. Do not try to walk or drive through flooded areas or around barricades.
Oh no, snow
Spring technically started on March 20 this year, but that's no guarantee it won't continue to snow periodically until April (and even May if we're especially unlucky). While it's unlikely that significant accumulation will occur, don't put away your winter gear just yet.