Thursday, July 16, 2009

Small Acts of God — Cedar Falls, Iowa


At about 3:30 a.m. Friday morning, July 10, Cedar Falls was hit by a severe thunderstorm that generated straight-line winds of around 100 mph in some locations. Estimates range from 60 mph to 160 mph; one theory for the high winds is that the storm produced a powerful microburst. The effect on the town was a LOT of tree damage: huge branches littering the streets; large trees broken off at the trunk, even uprooted. A garage was demolished, and there were widespread outages of electric power, ranging from minutes to hours to days.

Here are some photos of the aftermath of the storm. The first was taken by my friend David Grant. Note the tree which has fallen across a street and onto a car; in the right foreground, a power pole has fallen — you can see a transformer on the pole as it leans away.


The next picture, taken by my friend Tiffany Bullen, shows a large tree uprooted completely out of the ground. For a sense of scale, note the two houses shown in the background.


Tiffany's next shot also shows a tree that has been uprooted; note at the right of the picture the grass that was formerly at the base of the upright tree. The ground torn up with the tree still carries the grass as if nothing has happened. At the left, you can glimpse a guy in blue who is chainsawing branches; seeing how small he looks will give you a sense of how large this tree is. (In order to pick out Blue Guy, you may have to click on the picture to see a larger version.)


Carole Fishback, my friend who is a professional photographer, took this next shot. Her dramatic composition shows what a tremendous force snapped this huge tree like a slim twig. As Carole told me, the damage is like "random acts of violence — some giant couldn't find the tree he wanted so he grabbed this one and that one and left them all lying every which way."


Here is a photo I took on the University of Northern Iowa campus. This tree was inexplicably torn in three directions. The large break sent a sizable branch towards the left; a break higher on the trunk sent a larger branch toward the right; and underneath the branch on the left is another branch that is going in yet another direction, toward the low concrete wall. I'm pretty sure all the branches came from this tree because there was not another tree nearby, but how they ended up pointing in these three directions is beyond me. The concrete wall in the background is about three or four feet tall, so the highest part of the trunk is about seven feet up. Pretty amazing.


This next photo shows the top portion of a power pole. When I first saw this, the morning after the storm, it was hanging in the air from power lines, with what you see here about six feet above this sidewalk and no pole below. Where the rest of the pole was I don't know. I stuck my head out the car window to take a picture, but Mary Ann said, "Oh no, this is too dangerous!" and took off. So I didn't get what would have been one heck of a photo, but she was probably right. If the thing had taken that moment to plummet to the ground, we would have been in the middle of a mess of flailing power lines.


The next three photos show what happened to our city's landmark tree. It has a huge canopy arising out of four joined trunks; the four trunks form an archway that leads toward the front door of a corner house. I wonder how many engaged couples and also brides and grooms have taken a picture under this tree. It's quite a wonderful thing . . . probably made it into "Ripley's Believe It or Not."


This close-up diagrams the four tree trunks, in case you couldn't make them out above.


And this third shot shows how much of the original canopy was lost in the storm. The last I heard, on the local TV newscast, the jury was still out on whether the experts thought the tree would survive such massive damage. I sure hope it does. Many years of tree husbandry went into this beautiful thing.


Well, that's it for now. I'll keep adding photos to the blog if I find other dramatic images. Fortunately, no casualties other than trees. Ironic since Cedar Falls holds the title of "Tree City USA." Thanks again, David, Tiffany, and Carole, for letting me post your pictures here. Stay well, everyone.

Oh, and please write a comment below! If you are in Cedar Falls, tell everyone your storm story here. If you are somewhere else, I'd love to hear your reaction. Thanks!


21 comments:

elysia said...

Ohhhh NOOOO! That magical multiple trunk tree is my favorite tree in Cedar Falls! One day, while in college I went for an afternoon walk and decided to knock on the door and ask the homeowners about their tree canopy. It was planted as 4 separate tree and joined together to resemble some general's helmet in WWI. I can't remember what date it was planted but I really hope it survives because I would like a picture of it when I come visit next.

Vince Gotera said...

Elysia! Yeah, I know. But it's still magical. And I think it will survive. Let me know when you come to CF to visit, okay? --V.

Polly Forns said...

Wow! What a storm and what a tree! I've never seen one quite like it. If I ever get to Cedar Falls, Iowa I will be sure to look it up. I love old landmarks such as that one.

Vince Gotera said...

Polly. Yes, indeed. I hope it survives and recovers. Could it ever regain its fullness, do you think? In ten years or so, maybe?

ptbertram said...

Oh, no. So many uprooted and damaged trees! As if we aren't destroying enough of them, nature has to get rid of them, too?

I hope the four trunk tree survives. I've never seen anything like it.

Keith Wilson said...

It's a beautiful tree even now. Even if it dies it will be impressive.

The photo of the torn off telephone pole and transformer gave me chills. It's like the movies you see where it's the end of the world. How something like that could happen from wind astonishes me.

There are a lot of poems from this. I always try to tell myself that whenever anything bad happens. haha. And as a result, I have a ton of poems.

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