Tornado nearly takes out National Weather Service office in Davenport

DAVENPORT — Staff at the National Weather Service office at the Davenport Airport had to leave their posts and seek shelter as a weekend tornado nearly hit their building.

Meteorologist Rich Kinney says an EF-0 twister with winds around 75 miles an hour touched down near the Iowa 80 truck stop in Walcott around 10:30 on Saturday night. While it was a weak tornado, Kinney says it could’ve been a disaster had it struck a few hours earlier in the evening.

“This tornado also tracked over the Davenport Airport where we had a lot of vendors set up for the Quad City Air Show,” Kinney says. “So there was some pretty good damage to canopies, tents, equipment out there. Some of that was also due, of course, to straight line winds.”

The tornado followed Interstate 80 eastward and hopped over the town of Mount Joy, carving a ten-mile path over about 15 minutes. Kinney says all of the practice and training paid off as the National Weather Service crew stayed at their computers as long as they could before evacuating as the twister approached.

“We had our staff take shelter in our storm shelter for a few minutes while the La Crosse (Wisconsin) Weather Service office backed us up,” Kinney says. “They actually issued a warning for us, and then when the threat passed, we resumed normal operations.”

There’s damage to some houses, buildings, trees and power lines in that area of Scott County but no one was reported hurt. The same storm system brought strong winds to parts of northeast Iowa and dropped tennis ball-sized hail near Ottumwa.

“These tornadoes can develop very quickly, so it’s hard to get a lot of lead time, but our meteorologists were on top of it,” Kinney says. “We issued the warning quickly and were able to provide some heads-up time as this actually moved into a little bit more populated areas north of Davenport.”

On the plus side, he says the storms brought some areas of the drought-plagued state up to two inches of rainfall.