Inside The Storm: Parkersburg vs. Charles City

PARKERSBURG, IA (CBS2/FOX28) -- Two of the worst tornadoes in Iowa history happened in Eastern Iowa.

40 years separated the tragedies in Charles City and Parkersburg. But, the two storms were eerily similar.

It's hard to forget the heart breaking scenes of the Parkersburg EF5 tornado churning through the small Iowa community. The massive funnel obliterated the southern side of town in a couple of minutes, changing the landscape forever.

The 205 mph winds made it the strongest tornado in the state since one in Charles City and Oelwein 40 years earlier. Of all Iowa's tornadoes since 1900, only the Charles City twister of 1968 is comparable to the Parkersburg storm.

Both tornadoes struck within 10 minutes of another, on dates just 10 days apart. The long-tracked wedge tornadoes left a path of destruction half to three-quarters mile wide, for more than 40 miles. Each destroyed approximately 350 homes, with damage to about 50% of the cities. The storms originated within 30 miles of one another, in Butler County. They both grew to be EF5s with winds exceeding 205 miles per hour. Debris from the storms was found up to 80 miles away, in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Thirteen people lost their lives in Charles City, 9 in Parkersburg. While the death toll was higher in Charles City, this was likely due more to advance warnings in 2008. Thanks to new hi-resolution Doppler radars, tornado warnings were issued for the Parkersburg storm 40 minutes before the twister arrived. That, combined with sirens, spotters, cell phones, weather radios, the internet, and all around improved communication, gave Parkersburg an advantage Charles City never had.

So, based on the facts, there is no clear answer to the question, 'which was Iowa's worst modern day tornado?' Both Charles City and Parkersburg were heavyweights that dealt knockout blows!

The lesson learned is that advance warning is proven to save lives, and that's the number one mission of the WeatherFirst weather team.

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