Forecasters look to learn from deadly Midwest wind storm

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Eric Fish takes a break from hauling downed branches in front of his home, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The storm that struck Monday morning left tens of thousands of Iowans without power as of Friday morning. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

DES MOINES, Iowa – The unusual wind storm that damaged farms, homes and cities across the Midwest this past week could offer lessons for forecasters and the public on how to better prepare for something that packed the power of a category 3 hurricane but lacked the days of warning a typical hurricane offers.

The land hurricane, known as a derecho, caught farmers in fields, bicyclists on trails and travelers on highways — unaware that a series of thunderstorms that had formed the night before in South Dakota had picked up strength as it moved across Nebraska.

At least three people in Iowa and one in Indiana were killed, including a bicyclist on a trail and a woman sitting on her front porch — both struck by trees.

Forecasters had predicted thunderstorms and in some communities tornado sirens sounded 20 to 30 minutes before the winds began. But for many people, there was no sense that the day would be different from any other muggy Monday in August.

Farmer Dave Struthers was driving to his parents' farm a few miles away when waves of blinding rain and a wall of wind nearly pushed his pickup off the road.

“I sure didn't hear anything about it,” he said. “It blew strong for 10 or more minutes. Just solid. It just kept going."

His corn crop was damaged, and he lost two 8,000-bushel corn storage bins and seven hog buildings. His 800 animals are now staying at his sister’s farm.

Eric Fish, 33, was napping at his Cedar Rapids home when the wind began to blow. He said he didn’t hear any sirens and didn’t have time to get to the basement. He took cover in a closet. “I felt like I was going to die alone,” he said.