The 2010s were stormy and sometimes tragic
The well-worn saying among Iowans is: "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes because it's sure to change."So it's no surprise strong winds, high waters and even an ice storm secure a high place as we look back at the last decade. Mother Nature didn't waste any time.
STORMS OF THE DECADE
On July 17, 2010, peak wind gusts matching the strength of an F2 tornado ripped through the Iowa Great Lakes as 1,200 people were getting ready to take part in the University of Okoboji triathlon and distance running events. Winds of 50-70 mph were measured a full 40 minutes after warnings were issued in Dickinson County. It remains one of the decade's most destructive storms, but there were others:
• Heavy snowfalls at the start of 2010 caused two Mau Marine storage facilities to collapse and raised concerns about flooding at the Lower Gar outlet. The county and city of Milford worked together for the construction of two box culverts at 230th Avenue.
• Torrential rainfalls caused additional flooding concerns on July 14, 2011. Heavy rains — in the range of 3-6 inches over three hours — left lake levels 24 inches over the Lower Gar outlet dam.
By the fall, conditions actually became too dry: A windswept landscape, dry conditions and mounting farm work formed a combustible blend, keeping fire departments in Superior, Spirit Lake, Terril and Lake Park hard at work throughout the day on Thursday, Sept. 29. A burn ban lasted until December. The dry spell continued into 2012 when the area was under severe drought conditions to start the planting season.
• Roads were blocked, trees were toppled and branches crackled from the weight of thick ice and heavy snow from an April 9-11, 2013 winter storm in the Lake Park area. The thick layer of winter precipitation left road signs unreadable and school parking lots empty. Curbs were littered with cottonwood, oak, birch and maple branches.
• Even healthy branches couldn't completely withstand the strong winds as a series of storm cells marched its way through Dickinson County on June 16, 2014.
Winds splintered large limbs and some trees were pulled up from the roots. Some residents swept a peppering of leaves from their cottage driveways. Others needed a chainsaw for heavy-duty work.
Heavy rains caused a 4-inch rise in waters on West Lake Okoboji. The first band of storms rolled through in the mid-afternoon, including a tornado warning for Osceola and western Dickinson County.
The damage list included a row of five power line poles along 175th Street on the west side of West Lake Okoboji – they snapped and fell onto a field near Manhattan Beach. A sixth pole there was leaning at a dangerous angle and needed to be replaced. Farther east, the north side of a large metal enclosed grain storage facility at Green Plains Grain in Superior was destroyed by strong winds. Pieces of metal were spotted blocks away from the structure.
• Power lines were snapped, roadways were flooded and trees were pushed into buildings as part of a particularly nasty storm system on June 14, 2016.
Dickinson County Emergency Management Coordinator Michael Ehret measured winds of up to 70 mph. Conditions warranted both a severe thunderstorm warning and a tornado warning for the area that Tuesday afternoon.
The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls uses radar and spotter information to determine if a storm has reached severe levels or has spawned a tornado. Ehret passed along information about the tornado about 7 miles south of Lake Park.
Ehret said high winds caused extensive tree damage around the Iowa Great Lakes – especially north and east of the Milford area. A pair of grain bins were destroyed by strong winds about one mile east of Lake Park. Alliant Engery estimated about 1,600 of its 10,000 customers remained without power about four hours after the storms passed through.
• It's been almost 25 years since the waters in the Lakes Area hit memorably high levels in 1993, and Mother Nature seemed to be delivering an encore at the end of June 2018. Heavy rains led to water entering some basements, the closure of some roads and restrictions on boat travel during the peak vacation season.
The county board of supervisors authorized Dickinson County Engineer Dan Eckert to purchase sand for the public to sandbag their properties. The Dickinson County Emergency Management Commission used a quickly-called meeting July 3 to slow down boats on flooded lakes in Dickinson County.
The high water levels led to numerous road closures as well, including Iowa Highway 9 near the Little Sioux River.
Some of the region's sanitary sewers were forced to bypass their systems, emptying into some of the Iowa Great Lakes.
Severe weather continued into the fall: The National Weather Service determined a tornado touched down Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, on the south side of Highway 9 near Big Muddy Creek. The funnel crossed the road near the Green Plains ethanol plant, damaged the business' office, largely destroyed a garage in the city of Superior and exited the county between 140th Street and the highway before trailing off in Emmet County. Altogether, the funnel cloud traveled 3.9 miles in approximately 5 minutes, according to the weather service's data. The storm system intensified as it approached the Lakes Area. Monitoring stations clocked 40 mph winds in Lake Park and 50-65 mph winds near Milford.
When severe weather didn't cause pagers to go off, often structure fires sent multiple responders into action over the past decade.
The Iowa State Fire Marshal's Office reported 38 deaths related to Iowa fires in the first 10 months of 2011. Two of those tragedies took place in Dickinson County.
The first came five days into 2011, when a mid-morning fire brought Spirit Lake firefighters to the home of 82-year-old Marjorie Anderson. Then Fire Chief Dave Kollasch said the fire started in a kitchen garbage can.
Smoke could be seen from U.S. Highway 71, which is a few blocks east of the home at 2610 Center Lake Drive. Some of the first firefighters on scene saw flames coming out of the patio door area in the back of the structure.
Kollasch talked to caretakers, who confirmed that Anderson could walk without a walker, though one was on hand at the home. She used an oxygen tank for breathing assistance, and Kollasch has the impression that she may have tried to get away from the flames. The fire chief said heat signatures suggest she was in the coolest room of the home.
The State Fire Marshal's office in June 2011 released the findings of a May 7 structure fire that claimed the life of 2-year-old Dustin Ladehoff in Milford. Ronald Humphrey, a special agent with the Iowa State Fire Marshal Division Arson and Explosives Bureau said the fire started on a bed in one of the bedrooms and has been ruled intentional.
"It was started by a child playing with a lighter," he said.
• Fire was already coming out through the roof of Mineral City Mill and Grill as firefighters were paged to the Arnolds Park/Okoboji fire station in the overnight hours of Monday, June 11, 2012.
Fire Chief Chris Yungbluth of Arnold Park/Okoboji Fire & Rescue said the fire took about 90 minutes to be declared under control — but damage was already done. Road blocks were set up and the building was completely destroyed, leaving about 45 employees out of work.
• Residents in a Spirit Lake apartment complex were still trying to recover from a fatal fire that left dozens homeless on Dec. 7, 2014. Edwin Gerald Dowd was unable to escape the burning building.
Two apartment occupants were treated for smoke inhalation, but Spirit Lake Fire Chief Patrick Daly said none of the responding fire and rescue crews were injured.
His department was first dispatched to the scene at 12:12 p.m.
Daly, whose home is three blocks from the apartment, said he was already on his way along 15th Street when the Dickinson County communications center sent out another call.
"They told me the fire was through the roof and asked if we wanted to call for back up," Daly said at the time. "I told them to let me get around the corner and I'll take a look. When I came up on it, all I could see was smoke and flames and I said 'yep, get (Arnolds Park/Okoboji Fire and Rescue) rolling over here with their aerial.'"
Calls also went out to the Milford, Superior and Lake Park Fire Departments. Local fire departments struggled to get a handle on the fire, and crews stayed on scene a little over 14 hours later. The Red Cross provided assistance for immediate needs such as food, clothing and shelter to 17 people.
• The sound of sirens pierced an otherwise quiet Sunday evening, as the Milford Fire Department responded to reports of a fire at Zippers Gentleman’s Club on April 9, 2017. The department received the call at approximately 7:56 p.m.
Dan Lewis, who had become the new owner of the club that January, confirmed all customers and employees were able to exit the building without injury.
“Crews found the dumpster on fire against the north side of the building with the wind driving it into the attic area,” a statement from the Milford Fire Department read. “Due to multiple additions and common ceilings in the structure, crews had an impossible job sectioning off and stopping the fire.”
Four buildings – including Second Hand Depot and a rear warehouse – were damaged.
“All buildings are a total loss, with some areas of Second Hand Depot and its warehouse area having some salvageable items,” the Milford Fire Department statement said.
Lewis said the north wall of the club collapsed, likely making the fire harder to contain.
“With the winds last night, once that north side opened up, it kept pushing through the building and that’s how it spread to the (nearby) antique shop,” he said.
• A city street was blocked off and flames were still flickering among the rubble 15 hours after fire destroyed the Market Street Tire Co. building in the heart of Lake Park's business district.
Metal siding and tractor tires were piled up on the south side of the remnants. Excavation equipment was staged in a nearby alley.
The Lake Park Fire Department was called at approximately 12:32 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, to the automotive repair business, which is located directly across the street from city hall.
"The building was stand-alone, and it had parking on both sides — an alley and a street," Lake Park Fire Chief Brandon Ehret said. "As far as exposure to other structures, there wasn't a major concern. That's something you watch when you're fighting the fire, but we didn't have any danger."
He went on to say the heavy smoke merited the use of the Lake Park Community Center as a temporary shelter. His brother, Dickinson County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Ehret, said the gusty conditions that morning added to the problem.
"The winds were just at the right speed that it wasn't allowing the smoke to rise above houses and things and go away," he said. "It was blowing it straight down through all the houses in the residential area."
Local authorities went door to door in the areas affected the most and offered residents shelter in the community center.
"They did some voluntary evacuations to the southeast of the building," the fire chief said. "It sounded like a few people took advantage of that for awhile."
Hundreds of thousands of guests and residents are drawn to the Iowa Great Lakes each year, but occasionally the outcome isn't what responders hope for when a boater or swimmer goes missing.
2012 was a nightmare for water rescue teams in Dickinson County, and five families had to cope with the loss of a loved one in the Iowa Great Lakes.
The year began on an ominous note when emergency crews were called out April 9 to a location near West Okoboji Harbor. Divers recovered the body of 85 year-old Frederick Boer of Sanborn in about six to seven feet of water and near the end of a dock where it was believed he had been fishing earlier in the day.
Emergency water response teams were called out again two months later. They set up a staging area Sunday, June 10, on the shores of East Lake Okoboji. The Dickinson County Sheriff's Office said 26-year-old Jennifer Johnson was one of eight passengers on a boat making a slow cruise back to shore. The Dickinson County Communications Center received a 911 call at about 1:52 a.m. after the boaters couldn't locate her. Johnson was found after a five-hour overnight search.
Three unrelated drowning investigations unfolded in the month of August.
Jennifer Galagher, 46, of Denver, Colorado, disappeared after swimming off the shore of West Lake Okoboji on Monday evening, Aug 6.
Arnolds Park/Okoboji Fire Chief Chris Yungbluth said his dive team did not have to conduct a search – her family reported her missing on Tuesday morning, Aug. 7, and later found her underneath a dock. She was located in the area near Wheeler's Beach just off First Street in the city of West Okoboji.
Dive teams conducted an extensive search after a 35-year-old man disappeared in the waters of West Lake Okoboji on Sunday, Aug. 19. Authorities later learned that Juan Miguel Gonzales of Sioux City entered the water from a pontoon in an area of the lake south of Pikes Point State Park. They were able to locate the drowning victim on Wednesday, Aug. 22.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was in the region during the course of the three-day search. He said drownings have been on the rise throughout the state.
"It's been a very hot, dry summer and I think a lot of people wanted to get into the water," he said. "It does point out to me: We need to really put a focus on safety and people wearing life jackets when they're out on a boat."
An Oct. 20, 2012 drowning claimed the life of Andrew Goll, who was working on a dock along a part of West Okoboji accessed from Iowa Highway 86 near Okoboji View Golf Course.
• Two years earlier, outdoors enthusiast Chad Lenz of Carroll disappeared into the water during a weekend boat outing with his family on Sunday, June 27, 2010. Search boats on West Lake Okoboji located the drowning victim within about 24 hours. Authorities think the boater jumped into the lake near Pike’s Point State Park at approximately 1:30 p.m. Sunday, June 27, to retrieve an article of clothing that had blown off the boat. His wife and two children were also in the boat.
• An overnight search for 71-year-old Wayne Krogman of Spirit Lake ended in tragedy on May 24, 2018. Krogman had been fishing in waders, and his wife became concerned when he did not return at his expected time. Krogman was located about three hours after the search began near the spillway on the north end of East Okoboji Lake. Arnolds Park/Okoboji Fire & Rescue Chief Chris Yungbluth noted a high flow of water coming through the spillway from Big Spirit Lake to East Lake Okoboji.
• Loved ones of Vincent Harvey became concerned when he disappeared Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, near East Lake Okoboji. Authorities had found some of Harvey's personal items at the end of the dock Sunday after he was reported missing. He was found Monday morning, Aug. 26, near a marina along the lake. He was a 2014 graduate of St. Edmond Catholic School in Fort Dodge and volunteered as a wrestling coach.