OSKALOOSA — Three minutes — 180 seconds — that is how much warning the Oskaloosa Fire Department had between the National Weather Service issuing a severe thunderstorm warning for Mahaska County and straight-line winds taking the roof off of Mahaska Health West.
Oskaloosa Fire Chief Mark Neff held a press conference Thursday morning to review the events of Sunday’s storm that slammed into the area.
The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 2:59 p.m. Sunday. The warning included wind gust readings of 60 mph, Neff said. Once the National Weather Service issues the severe thunderstorm warning, it comes to the E911 Center and officials there page the fire department, he said.
Within a minute, the 911 Center notified the fire department, and Sunday’s storm struck in one to two minutes later.
“We lost power as we came down the stairs” of the fire station for the first call for service, Neff said.
The first call for service came from Mahaska Health Partnership at 3:02 p.m. as straight-line winds peeled off the roof of Mahaska Health West.
Neff said firefighters had been monitoring the storm via radar readings on a computer at the fire station. Osklaoosa firefighters did not receive any reports of severe weather from storm spotters, fire or law enforcement officials from Albia or Eddyville. When it reached the outskirts of Beacon and Oskaloosa, the storm intensified, Neff said.
“It ballooned out and went purple (on the radar screen) over Oskaloosa,” he said.
“These storms are living, breathing forces of nature,” Neff added.
It was moving so fast that when the storm’s characteristics reached the criteria for activating storm warning sirens, it had passed over the city, he said.
According to the Oskaloosa storm siren activation policy issued on May 22, 2013, the warning sirens would be activated for tornado warnings issued by the National Weather Service; a tornado or funnel cloud reported by a trained weather spotter; a severe thunderstorm warning issued by the National Weather Service or a report from a trained spotter that includes wind speeds of 70 mph or greater and/or golf ball-sized hail or larger (1.75 inches). There will be no “all clear” signal from the warning sirens, the policy states.