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Monday: Derecho Puts Hawkeye Football Into Perspective

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The loss of Hawkeye football in 2020 hurt. The derecho hurts worse.

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Powerful Derecho Causes Widespread Damage Across Iowa Farmland
Last week’s derecho will cost billions in damage. For Iowans, the damage has no price tag.
Photo by Daniel Acker/Getty Images

The last week has been brutal for Iowa fans, particularly those within the state’s borders. While we have long speculated there would be no fall football season, that speculation turned to reality on Tuesday with the Big Ten’s announcement it would postpone the conference’s season until spring of 2021.

It was a devastating decision as college football fans everywhere look for a reprieve from the unbearable negativity brought on by equal parts COVID-19 and election season. We’ll leave the debate on whether it was the correct decision for somewhere else at some other time, but the fact remains fans lost their outlet from it all just under a week ago.

Worse yet, fans in Iowa may not have even known the decision was final. For hundreds of thousands of Iowans, including yours truly, the news was either missed entirely or passed along by someone fortunate enough to have access to the outside world after the devastation that hit the state on Monday.

The day prior, on August 10th, Iowa was hit with a brutal storm known as a Derecho. For most across this great state, it wasn’t a term we’d heard before. A friend has since joked they clearly aren’t cut out to be an elementary teacher as they had done a whole segment on the weather with their 2nd grader while stuck in quarantine back in April. The term Derecho hadn’t been in the curriculum, but now the kiddo has had some experiential learning.

For those fortunate enough to have not been in eastern Iowa or western Illinois last week, or to have not happened to have had the TV on to the handful of national media outlets which have spent a handful of minutes talking about the storm since, a Derecho is essentially a rare, quick developing, land hurricane with front line winds in excess of 100 mph. In the wake of the storm, most reports have characterized it as essentially a category 2 hurricane in the middle of the heartland rather than on the coast. While that’s not inaccurate, it’s not all encompassing.

Different parts of the state felt different impacts. While winds sustained north of 100 mph for roughly a half hour were the norm, and indeed what I experienced from our home in Iowa City, some areas saw winds in excess of 140 mph. That’s equivalent to a category 4 hurricane.

As terrible as a category 4 hurricane is, it was substantially worse for communities across Iowa. Communities across Iowa are not built to withstand anything resembling a hurricane, let alone one as powerful as a category 4. Buildings in Iowa are not designed to withstand winds in excess of 140 mph. Windows in Iowa homes are not designed to withstand flying debris and resist shattering as those in homes along the coast would be.

Worse still, the people of Iowa didn’t have the warning of a hurricane. Residents of the east coast often have several days to prepare their homes with sandbags, boarded up windows and stockpiling food, water and gasoline in the event they lose power for several days or even evacuate altogether. Residents of Iowa had nearly no notice at all. Homeowners were caught completely off guard on an otherwise beautiful Monday afternoon. Businesses were left completely vulnerable.

The results have been devastating. Trees were left mangled, branches ripped to the ground, or uprooted altogether. For the fortunate ones, that was the extend of things. There was tremendous amounts of cleanup and a bill for tree trimming, but no major property damage. For others, the situation was much more dire with fallen trees collapsing roofs or crushing parked cars.

For nearly half a million Iowans, the end of the storm meant the beginning of the darkness. More than 450,000 people were left without power in the immediate aftermath. Worse, the immense winds also damaged cell towers across the state leaving people without electricity, refrigerated food or access to the outside world.

As that reality extended for several days, lines formed at home improvement stores as people looked for chainsaws to help with the cleanup, generators to power their essential things and flashlights to manage the darkness. Similar lines began to form at gas stations, which quickly ran out of ice, as well as gas, while also being limited to cash only transactions without internet access.

The darkness lasted into the weekend before nearly all of Iowa City had power restored. As of this morning, much of Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second largest city, remains without power. Crews are working around the clock, but roads remain inaccessible as tree work waits on electrical work and electrical work waits on more workers.

Thousands of people remain without light at night or air conditioning during the day as the August sun bears down. Access to gasoline and generators remains limited and cell service nearly non-existent in some areas. With homes now rendered unlivable, people have taken to camping on their lawns as they wait for relief.

The effects of last week’s storm will be long-lasting and far-reaching. Beyond the Iowans directly impacted last week, millions of Americans will feel the ripple effects of the storm on the country’s breadbasket.

Initial estimates peg the damage at 10-14 million acres of farmland destroyed last Monday. The split is skewed to roughly 60% corn, 40% soy beans with the cost expected to be roughly $6B. For comparison’s sake, the total estimated damage from all of 2020’s hurricanes has been just under $6B. The damage to just the farmland in Iowa from last week’s storm was more than all the damage from all the hurricanes year-to-date. That says nothing of the immense property damage to four of the state’s five largest cities.

With the incredible heartbreak caused by Mother Nature a week ago, the loss of a football season seems small and almost meaningless. As frustrating and disappointing as it can be to think about a fall without Hawkeye football, Monday’s derecho was a reminder that college sports are not the most important thing in any of our lives. They are a way for us to forget the harsh realities of today’s world and coping without them may be more difficult, but not impossible.

Hawkeyes are a resilient bunch built differently. We bounce back and fight through adversity. But in times like this, we need to come together to help one another. There are hundreds of thousands of fellow Hawkeyes who need help.

There are already thousands of tremendous, caring people working to coordinate efforts. If you’d like to get involved, there are ongoing efforts to assist with tree removal and home repairs across the state. If traveling to Iowa isn’t in the cards, there are numerous ways to assist from afar. Below are just a handful.

Venmo – @IowaDerecho

PayPal – info@derecho2020.com

Iowa Giving Crew

United Way of Eastern Iowa

Cedar Valley Humane Society

HACAP

Red Cross

Samaritan’s Purse

Salvation Army

Food Pantries

Stay safe. Stay strong. Be kind. Go Hawks.