Tornado rips across Johnson County, causing property damage but no injuries.
Amish farmer Wilford Miller had never seen a tornado – until last Friday.
“I was watching it,” Miller said, minutes after the tornado went through his farm on 470th Street SW east of Frytown. “I never seen the likes of it.”
Miller was in the barn milking his herd of 180 goats when the whole building started vibrating. He heard a loud sound like a freight train as he raced to the house, dodging branches flying through the farmyard.
He sent his family to the basement and then stood on the porch watching as the storm passed.
The tornado first touched down in Frytown just at 6:37 p.m. Friday and then tore 11 miles to the northeast, lifting just before it reached the Iowa City airport.
No one was injured, but the tornado caused considerable damage.
National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Gross in the Quad Cities said the tornado was rated an EF-1 on the enhanced Fujita scale with winds up to 110 mph. At its widest point, the tornado was 75 yards wide, Gross said.
“We did issue the tornado warning at 6:18 p.m., and it dropped at 6:37 p.m.,” he said, adding that the weather service received numerous videos and photos of the tornado.
“It was very photogenic,” Gross said. “This was on the ground for 11 miles.”
Just after the storm passed 470th Street, Miller’s neighbor Eli Bontrager rode up on his horse.
“I thought it was coming straight toward us,” Bontrager said. He had come for Miller’s help with some horses, one badly bruised in the tornado.
The stretch of road along 470th Street was one of the places where the tornado caused considerable damage.
The most dramatic was at Frytown Trailer on 500th Street SW where the tornado first touched down, throwing huge trailers around like toys.
Rosemary Slabaugh, who owns the business with her husband, was at home just up the driveway from where the trailers were stored.
“We seen it go through,” she said. “It was pretty impressive – a lot of wind; it was loud.”
She said she doesn’t know if the loud noise was the storm or the sound of the trailers being tossed around.
Their home was not touched, but a couple of hundred yards down the driveway at the trailer yard, they found trailers strewn about, some thrown more than 100 yards, others stacked on top of each other.
On Saturday, heavy forklifts were lifting the damaged trailers off one another, the task made tougher by thick mud created with the heavy rains that accompanied the storm.
Just more than three miles to the northeast, Wilford Miller was milking his goats, unaware of the approaching storm until the barn started shaking.
Next door to the Millers, Dennis Auer was tracking the storm on television in the home he had built 22 years ago.
“It got extremely windy,” Auer said, and he watched the trees in his yard rocking violently in the wind.
A pair of firefighters – Matt Pantel from Hills and Zach Shalla of Lone Tree – came to Auer’s door to check on him. They had to climb over a giant fir tree that had fallen across Auer’s driveway.
The firefighters were among dozens of first responders – firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and Johnson County road crews – who traveled the roadways of southern Johnson County checking on residents and damage.
Farther east on 470th Street, Bob Miller’s home took a direct hit. The tornado ripped out a number of trees before it hit the house, blowing the front from a second-floor room, opening a hole in the roof, tossing a tractor on its side and throwing a basketball hoop into an adjacent field.
“I don’t know where my gazebo is,” Miller said on Saturday as he surveyed the damage.
The ground floor of the home was filled with insulation, sucked downstairs as the tornado ripped off a section of roof.
Miller was not at home at the time but on his way to Iowa City. He said it was “really weird” that he saw the tornado, took a picture and sent it to his wife who was out of town. Minutes later, his phone began ringing with neighbors informing him that the house had taken a direct hit.
Fortunately, the damage was not worsened with rain that hit the area overnight. Contractor friend Chris Schlabach closed up the second floor and put a tarp over the roof. Storms that drenched surround areas overnight only produced a few sprinkles at the Miller house.
“We were right in between two cells,” Miller said.
While the tornado was damaging Miller’s home, Nyle Kauffman rushed to get his sheep in from the field as the storm approached with heavy rain and lightning.
“And then I heard a roar,” he said. “When I heard the roar, the tail was on the ground.”
Kauffman added, “I heard the roar, and there it was.”
His grandson Gabe snapped a photo of the tornado as it bore down on the family house on Maier Avenue SW. Then he headed for the basement.
The tornado must have lifted because the house was undamaged.
Another three miles to the east, the tornado tore past the Welsh Church on Sharon Center Road, ripping the powerline from the church and closing Sharon Center Road.
Pastor Jerry Stevenson was on his way home from a grandson’s birthday party and arrived just after the tornado had passed.
“Near as I can tell it went just to the side,” he said.
Across the street, the tornado felled numerous trees and destroyed a garage.
Bob Miller, whose house was hit by the tornado, was philosophical. He noted that the damage to his home was repairable, and he was thankful no one was injured.
“Overall, it’s just a hiccup in the road,” he said.