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Storms rip through Okoboji
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Storms rip through Okoboji

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WEST OKOBOJI, Iowa -- All along the south edge of West Lake Okoboji on Sunday morning, profound signs of the major storm that struck the Iowa Great Lakes area late Saturday night were seen.

Small fishing boats and large speedboats, at various angles of uprightness, were driven up onto the sand, which encompassed both private properties and the public beach at Terrace Park. Docks were in ruins=, with wood splintered into large and small pieces. Trees on the beach were tipped over, including some fully pulled out by the roots.

That was the effect of a storm that resulted in tornado warnings for Dickinson, Clay and other counties from approximately 10:15 p.m. to 11:45 p.m., as the weather event moved southeast from southern Minnesota. Tornado sirens went off, people gathered in basements, power lines were knocked down and homes were without power for hours. However, there were no known injuries caused by the storm.

No tornado was seen by emergency personnel, and at one point the tornado warning from the National Weather Service was changed to a thunderstorm warning, albeit one with the potential for 80 mph winds. The situation was dicey for nearly two hours, as the storm, still packing a punch, moved east toward Emmetsburg, Curlew and other places.

Katie Deman of Sioux City, who was staying at a Pocahontas Point residence on the west side of West Lake Okoboji, described a harrowing scene as she peered out through rain and gusting winds. Deman said a family in a speedboat was rushing to beat the brunt of the storm, pulled up to a neighboring dock and rushed inside.

However, she added, "The boat sunk, the waves got so big."

Okoboji Boulevard runs east and west along the south edge of West Lake Okoboji. Leslie and Jan Hahn of Florida were staying at 1211 Okoboji Blvd., in the summer home that's been owned by her family since 1968.

"This is the worst we've ever seen in 42 years," Leslie Hahn said. "The (air) pressure woke me, the rattling, the noise."

The last severe Okoboji weather with such a wide reach may have occurred in the late 1960s, when several funnels struck the Arnold's Park area, including knocking a roof off the popular Roof Garden night club and hitting The Inn.

Hahn said before the power went out at about 10:30 p.m., she could make out through the storm that a 40-foot limb had been taken off a tree in the front yard. The limb was so tall it rose clear up to a second-story deck. She said being located at the south edge of the lake meant the storm had an unabated six-mile run at the properties.

"The rain was coming sideways," said her husband, Jan Hahn.

National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Temeyer said a gust was reported from the Okoboji Airport of 74 mph, but the damage seen Sunday was indicative of winds in the 80 to 100 mph range. He said there was no tornado that touched down, but straight-line winds wreaked havoc.

"The problem was that it was sustained for such a long period," Temeyer said.

Linda Oliver, 1209 Okoboji Blvd., described the eerie approach of the storm, which made her fear the worst.

"It was still. You knew," she said.

Oliver said the stream of cars to see the storm aftermath began about 6 a.m. Sunday. She owns a section of lakefront property, where a massive, decades-old cottonwood tree was uprooted. In her backyard, another tree was uprooted, lying on a powerline.

About 9 a.m., the West Okoboji city manager was driving a tractor to pick up fallen trees on Terrace Park beach. Another man with a chainsaw worked on the project. A few feet to the east, all the docks at the Boy's Town Camp were smashed and four boats had been driven into the sand.

By late morning, the amount people passing through to look at the extensive damage along the south side of West Lake Okoboji slowed the cleanup. That caused law enforcement to close off Okoboji Boulevard to nonlocal travelers at about 10 a.m.

Just before noon, people were taking pictures at the Arnold's Park Amusement Park, where many trees had been downed inside the perimeter. One huge tree lay on the Tilt-A-Whirl ride, covering a considerable part of the machinery.

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