36 Hours: The Time Frame That Flipped My Life Upside Down

The past three days have been one of the biggest roller coaster rides of my life. This past Monday, a powerful weather phenomenon, known as a “derecho” swept across the State of Iowa as fast as Geoffery Mutai’s record-breaking Boston Marathon time from 2011. The storm, packing continuous winds over 100 miles per hour in some locations, blasted across the state, uprooting trees, snapping power lines, blowing up transformers, ripping up roofs and much more.

As I gathered data from the storm Monday evening, radar data showed that the winds in the thunderstorm (500-1,000 feet above the ground) measure to nearly 140 miles per hour as the storm slammed into Madrid. Those are winds stronger than Hurricane’s Katrina and Harvey had in their respective landfalls. I list those two storms specifically as they are the two most costliest tropical cyclone’s in history.

While the winds on the ground were not as strong as the winds measured by radar, it’s very likely that the winds in Madrid were continuously clocking anywhere from 100 to 115 miles per hour. As this was all going down, the rumors were flying all over social media about what the Big Ten was going to do for the college football season.

Dan Patrick had reported that morning that the Big Ten president’s had voted 12-2 in favor of canceling the fall football season and would try again in the spring. It would later come out that president’s hadn’t voted at all to that point and the vote itself was planned for Tuesday morning, adding fuel to the fire of cries against the glaring shortcomings that conference commissioner Kevin Warren, had allowed in his short tenure.

The clock for this 36 hour time frame kicked off at 10 AM on Monday morning as I got ready to head down to Ottumwa for a meeting on Monday afternoon.

Storm Timeline

10:30 A.M. – I filled up my car at the Git ‘n’ Go in Madrid before I take off for Ottumwa. The cashier noted to me that the line of storms was coming quick and had heard there was winds above 70 miles per hour. I told him that I was leaving early so I could outrun the storm.

10:50 A.M. – By this point, I am flying down I-35 in Ankeny, going about 15 over the speed limit. The storm is closing in on me much faster than I anticipated. By the time I reach the mix-master on the east side of Des Moines, I know I have no shot of outrunning this storm and immediately begin to look for a place to ride the storm out.

10:59 A.M. – Shelter was found at a Kum & Go off Hubbell Ave. on the far eastern section of Des Moines, essentially in Altoona. The gust front hits: the power immediately goes out at the gas station. Two minutes later, as the winds increases in intensity, a transformer across the street explodes in a shower of sparks. I immediately realize this is a different beast, one of which intensity I’ve never witnessed before.

11:20 A.M. – In the little cell service I could get, a friend of mine text’s in our group chat that he’s been told a tree has fallen on his house due to the intensity of the storm. It was when I read this that I knew that my home had been hit hard. How hard was answer I was trying to figure out, but I was beginning to experience feelings of panic and fear over what might have happened to my family.

11:28 A.M. – I am finally able to get through to a family member on the phone, my uncle who lives in Woodward. All he could tell me was that trees were down everywhere in the town and he was blocked in on his driveway from a fallen tree. The conversation ends when my grandparents try to call him.

11:37 A.M – The first pictures of damage and carnage begin to emerge on social media from near my hometown, the sight of overturned semis and destroyed grain elevators only heighten my worry. The one that particularly stands out to me is the multiple destroyed grain elevators in Luther, just seven miles north of Madrid. Only one elevator remained standing as the other three were twisted like pieces of plastic.

Noon – I make the decision, Ottumwa is an absolute no go. My mission became getting back to Madrid and doing whatever I can to help with whatever has happened. I try continuously to contact any family member I can, but it is clear that cell phone service has been compromised at the very least.

At one point, I resort to texting an old friend, who’s dad lives down the road from my house as she appears to be my best shot at getting any kind of information on what has happened in Madrid.

12:20 P.M. – As I try and fight my way through Ankeny and take a back route home as I-35 between Ames and Ankeny is littered with overturned semis, delaying traffic for miles, my mom is finally able to get through. She informs that she took shelter in the cooler at Casey’s and that she wasn’t sure that I would be able to get into Madrid.

She tells me to not risk it, but it was far too late for me to sit back and be passive about what has happened.

12:26 P.M. – My sister finally gets a hold of me, as she is with my dad and brother at our grandparents house. Their house has a hole in their roof from sheering due to the high wind and rain had leaked into their kitchen and dining room through a crack in the ceiling.

My dad then proceeds to tell me that the oak tree in our front yard has been taken out by the storm and a chunk of it is laying on a corner of our roof. The fallen tree also took out our recently renovated side porch as well.

12:45 P.M. – I am finally able to pull into Madrid, however as I pass the Dollar General on the south side of town, I am soon stopped by a traffic backup. It takes me a half hour to get from Ninth Street to the traffic light at the intersection of Highway 210 and Highway 17, which normally takes about 2 minutes to reach.

As I continue to inch along, I am absolutely blown away at what I see. Never in my life have I seen the type of damage I saw in the town that raised me. Block after block, street after street all looked the same: trees down, power lines snapped, people wandering.

My hometown looked like a war zone.

1:15 P.M. – I park my car at Casey’s to check on my mother and assess what has happened, the mayor of Madrid walks by and asks if Casey’s has gasoline available (which they did not with the power cut). He also informs them that he has already put a call in to ask for state and federal aid so they can get essential business up and running as quickly as possible.

From there I would walk merely down the street and a right turn to get to both of my grandparents houses. I hardly recognized the neighborhood I was in.

1:30 P.M. – I make my way to my dad’s parents house and have found out that I have beat them home as they (my grandparents) have not found a passable route to the house at that time. I inspect the damage around the house as well as my mom’s parent’s house (they are neighbors) and my disbelief only grows.

That’s when I notice the high school, which had the roof to the gymnasium ripped off (no picture) and the athletic facilities looked like the play area of Paul Bunyan’s child, with objects thrown onto things they have no business being on and other things completely destroyed.

From that point on, my day was filled with checking in on numerous people, seeing if anyone needed help and continuous running back forth from various places. That night I ended up staying at a West Des Moines hotel with my mother and sister as we obviously had no power or air conditioning. It gave me a chance to decompress and let my guard down after one of the most stressful, and quite frankly, most painful days of my life.

My hometown was in shambles. I was lucky, I still had a house I could go home to. I know of friends and acquaintances who don’t have that luxury.

The Follow-Up

Tuesday came, I had rescheduled my meeting in Ottumwa and made the trip in an attempt to try to keep my life as normal as possible. The trip was successful and was close to returning to the Des Moines metro area when I took my second sucker punch in as many days.

Big Ten football was off the for the fall. To me, that means no college football at all in the 2020-21 school year (something that’s too long for me to explain).

I was filled with rage. Rage towards the Big Ten presidents, rage towards Kevin Warren, rage towards…well, the world really. No one likes to be kicked when you’re down, but the Big Ten not only kicked me while I was down. The kicked me, held me upside down, stole my lunch money and tried to blame it on me.

So I did what any 21-year old would do when they’re as angry as I was. Release it via physical exertion. I worked, I worked trying to get my mind off of it. Cleaning up as much of my front yard as I could, cleaned up as much of my both my grandparents’ house as I could and even helped tarp my dad’s parent’s roof.

I slept in my powerless, non-air conditioned house and I slept hard. I went to be knowing that I had worked hard and after a restless 36 hours, I was ready for a long, hard night’s sleep. Boy did it feel good.

So through all this writing and babbling and so on, the point I am trying to make, is never take anything for granted. It can all be taken from you in an instant. I haven’t lost anything outside of a tree, my house’s power and air conditioning, and my senior year of covering college football. All of those things are insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

But many weren’t as fortunate. Thousands of Iowa farmers have lost an estimated billions of dollars of crops, which is like dumping gasoline on a wildfire when you consider the drought parts of the state have seen. Some had businesses and home’s destroyed and are looking at quite a rebuild.

I didn’t have any of that, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not thankful for what I still have.

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