Editors' Notebook

2020 Derecho Showed Midwest Resilience

Elaine Shein
By  Elaine Shein , Associate Managing Editor
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Iowa grain bins crushed by the 2020 derecho show how they were no match against hurricane-strength winds. (DTN file photo by Todd Hultman)

As I stepped out on my second-floor balcony in Omaha on the morning of Aug. 10, 2020, a very black, ominous cloud to the northeast instantly captured my attention. I quickly opened the balcony door to grab my camera -- and in the few seconds it took to get the camera and step back out, it was too late.

The churning cloud was already above me, the wind howling at more than 60 miles per hour, and dust blowing. Shingles were flying off buildings around me and I could barely stand on the balcony. Tree branches violently whipped back and forth. Loud banging sounds accompanied loose items being tossed around in the neighborhood.

I knew the storm was bad. But I still had no clue what I was witnessing: the birth of a derecho.

I was lucky as I stood there just on the southern edge of it. I got just a hint of the power of the storm.

In the next few hours, some people would experience winds more than twice what I had and have very little left standing of their homes or businesses.

However, that morning, many farmers had looked to the skies and hoped the storm would bring rain for their thirsty Midwest crops.

As DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick wrote today (https://www.dtnpf.com/…), a derecho wasn't expected. A severe thunderstorm watch didn't go out until close to sunrise. Even then, to most people, it would seem inconceivable that by the time the day would end, the storm would have reached wind speeds equivalent to a Category 3 major hurricane and knock out power in some places for more than two weeks.

It would plow through and flatten millions of acres of valuable crop, crumple and toss huge grain bins like tin cans, and be almost merciless of anything in its path -- whether it was farms or even cities, as Cedar Rapids, Iowa (population: approximately 134,000) can testify.

By the time the storm's fierce winds finally died down in Indiana, thousands of homes were destroyed or had major damage, public infrastructure needed to be repaired or replaced, and farmers scrambled in some places to find grain storage after so much had been damaged or destroyed.

As the derecho roared from eastern Nebraska all the way to Indiana, "The total monetary damage was estimated at $11 billion, making it the most costly thunderstorm in U.S. history," Baranick wrote.

DTN was in a unique position that day. That same week, DTN/Progressive Farmer was doing a Digital Yield Tour with Gro Intelligence.

With Gro Intelligence's powerful and modern yield modeling systems, DTN's strong team of editors/reporters, analysts and meteorologists, we quickly tracked the wind path and helped identify the worst-affected counties. (See https://www.dtnpf.com/…) Through stories, blogs, columns, photos and video, DTNPF tried to put into perspective what happened -- but also how huge would the derecho's impact be at the time and beyond.

Today marks the first anniversary of the derecho.

During the last 12 months, farmers such as the Ihle family near Madrid, Iowa, shared with DTN how they were attempting to clean up the damage to their homes, yards and in their fields (https://www.dtnpf.com/…); DTN had stories on what to do about insurance and what the politicians offered for any help (https://www.dtnpf.com/…); there were suggestions on how to rebuild bins and store grain (https://www.dtnpf.com/…), and advice on how to deal with the challenges of trying to harvest damaged fields where the corn was down and tangled (https://www.dtnpf.com/… and https://www.dtnpf.com/…). DTN market analysts also dug into how the derecho affected USDA crop production estimates (https://www.dtnpf.com/…) and even basis and market prices for months afterward (https://www.dtnpf.com/…).

DTN continued to follow into 2021 how the derecho influenced farmers' harvesting, marketing and even buying decisions.

Yet, there is much more to the story.

The derecho was about more than just hurricane-force winds affecting homes and crops.

What has emerged is what farm families and rural communities are known for in times of challenge: This last year, they have shown their resilience, strength, helping neighbors and communities, and most of all their hope for the future.

Farmers, such as the Stalzer family at Haverhill, Iowa, shared the lessons they learned, including being prepared for any future derechos (https://www.dtnpf.com/…).

As Stephanie Voxland, president of Global Bin Builders based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, told Progressive Farmer Crops Editor Matthew Wilde last year, she had people ringing her phone so they could rebuild (https://www.dtnpf.com/…).

"Even though we are all still in shock, I'm amazed at the positive attitude the people I talk to have and how aggressively they're working to rebuild and make necessary repairs," Voxland said only a few days after the storm. "We're standing in front of total destruction in some places, but people are plowing forward.

"That's a great quality in people in the Midwest," she added.

That perfectly describes the Midwest, especially farmers and ranchers.

They'll keep plowing forward, no matter how strong that Midwest wind blows.


Editor's Note:

To see a special package of DTNPF's coverage this past year on the derecho, please visit https://spotlights.dtnpf.com/…. This page will be occasionally updated with the latest relevant stories.

Elaine Shein can be reached at elaine.shein@dtn.com

Elaine Shein

Elaine Shein
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