Severe Weather in May Starts Off With a Bang

URBANDALE, Iowa  --  Severe weather is about to become more common across the state of Iowa as May arrives, and it's already off to a powerful start.

It started like a normal Tuesday commute for Bryan Webber.

“Typical traffic on 100th and we’re all kind of backed up a little bit, and all of a sudden a big bolt of lightning comes down behind the Enterprise rental place," said Webber. "All the cars kind of slow down simultaneously, and within a millisecond, not only did we see the lightning, but the entire ground shakes. That’s the closest I’ve been to a lightning strike, it was shocking!”

Literally.  The bolt of lightning hit a small tree nearby, setting it ablaze. Webber called 911 and then started filming with his phone.

“A gentleman came out from one of the businesses with a fire extinguisher and tried to put the fire out, and it started to look like one of those birthday candles that you blow out and it starts back on fire,” said Webber.

That’s because the bolt damaged a nearby gas line.  Mid-American Energy was at the scene fixing it later in the day. With more severe weather expected in the coming days, this is one kind of damage storm surveyors with the National Weather Service will be looking for.  They also look for hail and wind damage.

“We're correlating that with what we've seen on radar and also the additional reports we had with that particular storm, so we're making a determination on whether it was straight line winds or if the damage was caused by a tornado,” said Kelsey Angle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The NWS says it’s especially important to log tornado damage to see how weather patterns change over time, and potentially help make warnings and watches more accurate.

“From a historical aspect, it's important to know are we getting more, stronger, damaging tornadoes, or are we getting more weak, brief tornadoes,” said Angle.

The National Weather Service says it relies on citizens in communities affected by severe weather to let them know where the conditions are and how serious they become.