Blizzard conditions punished the western half of Iowa yesterday and into today, while the rest of Iowa confronted its second severe winter storm in less than a week. A potent combination of snow, rain, ice and high winds have closed interstate highways, stranded motorists, canceled flights and sent school children home early. It has left about 11,000 Iowans without power and another 30,000 wondering when their electricity will be restored from last weekend's storm. Many without power are in rural areas.
Governor Chet Culver has declared all of Iowa's 99 counties disaster areas. "We are concerned that we could have prolonged outages, given current weather conditions and roads," he says. Generally the worst of Thursday's storm initially pounded the area west of Interstate 35. Areas of western Iowa, including Atlantic, Harlan, Denison and Carroll, received 12 to 20 inches of snow, coupled with 40 to 50 mph winds and considerable drifting. Eastern Iowa received an average of less snow, but wind gusts were from 25 mph up to 50 mph. Central, north central and parts of northeast and northwest Iowa are also experiencing white-out conditions. Many highways are still closed due to drifting.
Culver says 46 of Iowa's counties have already met the criteria needed to receive federal and state financial assistance. He expects the rest will qualify as well.
Blizzard warnings stay in effect today
Yesterday Culver sent a letter to President George W. Bush requesting a Presidential Disaster Declaration for 46 counties in the state. They are: Benton, Black Hawk, Boone, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Calhoun, Cedar, Chickasaw, Clinton, Des Moines, Fayette, Floyd, Franklin, Greene, Grundy, Hamilton, Hardin, Henry, Howard, Humboldt, Iowa Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Jones, Keokuk, Lee, Linn, Louisa, Marion, Marshall, Mitchell, Muscatine, Pocahontas, Poweshiek, Story, Tama, Van Buren, Wapello, Washington, Winnebago, Winneshiek, Worth and Wright Counties.
The Governor is requesting federal Public Assistance Program and debris removal for the 46 counties and Hazard Mitigation programs statewide. These programs are designed to help public organizations rebuild infrastructure damaged by a storm. The hazard mitigation program is designed to fund programs designed to prevent damages from future storms.
The Governor's request for a Presidential Disaster Declaration is the result of the severe winter storm system that started in Iowa on Saturday, February 24, 2007, and continued with blizzard conditions today. Damage assessment for potential eligible expenses totaled $34,763,663. Estimated damage attributed to Rural Electrical Cooperatives totaled $31,854,715.
Weather knocks out electric to thousands
"It is important to remember these damage estimates only cover eligible expenses under the federal programs," Culver stressed. "The actual damages that can be attributed to this storm are substantially higher. I look forward to working with the federal government to get this important funding."
The request has been sent to the FEMA Region VII Director in Kansas City, MO. Region VII officials will first review the request, include their recommendations. They will then forward it to Washington D.C. for a series of reviews by a number of federal agencies before it is presented to President Bush for his review and final decision. Presidential requests can take from days to weeks before granted or denied. Additional counties can be added as the request is being reviewed.
As of Friday morning, Iowa's electric cooperatives have an estimated 3,840 outages from the previous weekend's storm and an estimated 3,066 new outages due to the current storm, for an estimated total of 6,906. Iowa's other utility companies are also continuing to report a significant number of customers without power.
Farmers have escaped large livestock losses
Iowa has so far escaped significant livestock losses from the storms, says state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey. Several farms in northeast Iowa had barns collapse from the weight of ice and snow. Many other farms lost electricity but livestock many operations normally have back-up generators to cope with such outages. The Iowa Department of Agriculture has been linking farmers who need generators with people who have them to spare.
For more information on generator availability or if you need help coping with storm-related problems, see www.agriculture.state.ia.us or call 800-447-1985.
Farmers should check for snow that may have blown into the tops of grain bins. Snow must be removed before it melts and causes molding and crusting over. The first step is to assess the situation. If relatively small or concentrated amounts of snow have entered the grain bin, aeration during cold, clear days should prevent mold from developing. A thicker layer of snow covering the grain should be removed. Bring down the top layer of grain, including the snow from the grain bin, as soon as possible.
ISU Extension ag engineers also remind farmers to use caution. Never enter a grain bin that has been partially unloaded or while unloading equipment is running.