EF4 tornado ‘very unusual’ in Iowa for early March

A house, destroyed by an EF4 tornado on Saturday evening, is covered in snow on Monday, south of Winterset. Photo: Chelsey Lewis and Kelsey Kremer/The Register/USA Today Network

The powerful EF4 tornado that devastated Winterset and surrounding communities was “very unusual, especially of this magnitude,” Brad Small, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, told Axios.

  • Most tornadoes occur in April and May in Iowa, but warm, humid weekend air combined with cold weather contributed to unstable conditions.

By the numbers: Saturday’s severe storm broke a number of records from the past decade:

  • The last recorded EF4 tornado in Iowa in March was in 1990.
  • Last weekend’s tornado was continuously grounded for 69.5 miles – the longest track in Iowa since 1984, when a tornado traveled 117 miles.
  • It was the deadliest tornado since 2008, when a storm killed seven people in Parkersburg and two in New Hartford.

The big picture: Clear links between this early-season event and climate change are lacking, according to meteorologist Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Oklahoma.

  • While studies show that climate change-induced trends can shift the region where tornadoes typically occur, such as the anomaly in Kentucky last December, it’s unclear whether the Iowa tornadic event was caused by this.

Axios climate and energy reporter Andrew Freedman contributed to this report.


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