Weather Alerts

OLD WIVES’ TALE: Is Des Moines Protected From Tornadoes?

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Tornadoes are nothing new here in Iowa.

Last year alone tornadoes touched down in Belmond, Sloan and Creston to name a few.

Iowa is considered tornado alley and for good reason.

But what about the myth the capital city is safe from a tornado because of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers?

One fisherman we talked to said, “I heard it a long time ago when I was a kid and my parents always told me I was safe here because of the rivers.”

Another walker on Gray’s Lake also heard the myth saying, “I had heard it probably right when we first moved to Des Moines that it was kind of a protected area because it was between the two rivers.”

The old wives’ tale is just that.

“We have the confluence of the Raccoon and the Des Moines river right down by the I-Cubs, everybody says we`ll never have a tornado there, that`s not true, tornadoes will go across anybody of water,” says Channel 13 Meteorologist Ed Wilson.

Wilson says that old folklore has been thrown around for years but you can't believe everything you hear.

According to data collected by the University of Michigan since 1950 there have been 111 tornadoes that have hit around the metro.

Specifically in Polk County there have been 52 since 1950.

Debunking this myth for good.

“Des Moines doesn't have much tornado history in the city of Des Moines but through the city we've had an F0 tornado right through the mid-2000’s,” says Wilson.

The last tornado to hit Des Moines was in 2007 and before that an F1 touched down in 2000.

So although rare, Des Moines is not immune and it has nothing to do our two rivers.

“Always stay aware and make sure you are not going to believe a myth if it sounds too good to be true it probably is,” says Wilson.

Other tornado myths include opening your homes windows to reduce pressure or parking under an overpass for protection, and taking cover in the southwest corner of your home when a tornado is coming.

Those myths have also been debunked as false.


  • Randy Johnson

    while a radar operator for the United States Navy, I tracked more than a dozen water spouts (tornado full of water) on different coasts different days different ships. I even steered a USAF C 130 around a water spout one day when their weather guesser refused to accept reality from 350 miles away. I got yelled at by the air force control center but thanked by the air crew so it balanced out. :)

  • dereklee75

    does the air traffic from the airport have anything to do with tornadoes I always wondered that

  • Harry Moyer

    I always considered it a load of Bull. BUT… in the past decade+ I have watched the radar incessantly. Cannot fathom how many times I’ve seen full blown storms and supercells come right at Des Moines doorstep and basically disintegrate and reintegrate just on the OTHER side of Des Moines. It happens way more than not.
    Now I’m not saying the myth is true, but someone sure needs to explain how this phenomenon is so prevalent.

  • Mike T

    It’s just a matter of time. With urban sprawl. And even though the radar’s are located just to the North of DSM, they do look to disappear to some extent on radar. That’s just due to the storms actually being to close to the radar on the lowest tilt.

Comments are closed.