Property damaged, cows spared in May’s final storm

By TJ Rhodes
Posted 6/7/24


Iowa was shook early on Friday, May 24, as a massive storm system hit all reaches of the state. Later classified as a derecho, the eye of the storm entered the Kalona area around 6 a.m.

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Property damaged, cows spared in May’s final storm



Iowa was shook early on Friday, May 24, as a massive storm system hit all reaches of the state. Later classified as a derecho, the eye of the storm entered the Kalona area around 6 a.m.

It then produced an EF-1 tornado that caused sporadic damage in Joetown before dissipating and returning up the road, ravaging Kalona resident Rick Brenneman’s property.

Brenneman woke to the sound of howling wind around 5 a.m. and went back to sleep.

But Brenneman woke again around 6 a.m. to the sound of crashing tree limbs and other sounds he couldn’t quite describe. He tried to turn on the lights but noticed the power was intermittent. Eventually, Brenneman lost electricity entirely.

After roughly five to 10 minutes of noise, everything fell silent, letting Brenneman know the worst of the storm had likely passed.

This led Brenneman to his front door. He looked outside and couldn’t believe his eyes. After a double take and a question of if he was dreaming, he came to terms with what he saw: his barn, which housed two cows and a calf, was completely knocked over.

“This came out of nowhere,” Brenneman said. “There was not a lot of light, that’s why I had to look a second time. [The barn] is gone!”

Even with bad luck, not all was lost.

“Am I dreaming?” Brenneman wondered. “The only thing I'm worried about is the two cows and the calf we got in there. I thought, ‘Oh my god, they are crushed.’ [I] went out digging through the rubble; there they were, two cows and the calf just looking at me. I go, ‘Giddy up.’”

Brenneman led the cows to safety within their pen and wondered what to do next: tree limbs littered the yard, downed powerlines lay hidden in the grass, and debris from the barn was scattered across the property, with some pieces as far away as the road.  Not to mention, the rain continued to pour from angry clouds for hours after the damage was done.

A clean-up effort was needed. Thus, Brenneman contacted nearby family members to see what help he could rally.

“I asked, ‘Can we wait until it dries up a bit?’ My brother says, ‘We’re cleaning up [now],’” Brenneman recalled.

This enthusiasm help Brenneman round up help quickly, with some people showing up without being asked.

“Give these troopers credit for cleaning things up,” Brenneman said. “They are all just good Samaritans who showed up [to help].”

The cleanup effort became a well-oiled machine.

Community members, friends and family helped Brenneman clean up his yard by piling debris so that Brenneman’s brother, Lance, could lift it with his tractor equipped with a front loader, depositing debris into a dump truck which then hauled it away.

Additionally, Grout Electric and Farmers Electric worked to fix Brenneman’s powerlines throughout the week that followed.

However, questions still remained, like what would Brenneman do with his now-homeless cows?

After brainstorming ideas over the following weekend, Brenneman found a farm for his cows at which to stay, making sure they’ll be taken care of as he decides what to do with the area that once housed the destroyed barn.

 All other questions have answers “still up in the air,” according to Brenneman.

Despite knocking down his barn, this EF1-tornado spared Brenneman in other ways. The cows were spared; the storm caused no significant damage to his house besides knicks and scratches from fallen limbs; all of his trees remained standing; and to Brenneman’s surprise, the storm also spared his garden.

“[This storm] happened so fast; it’s just good to be lucky,” Brenneman said.

The tornado’s path

This storm system as a whole caused varying levels of damage throughout the entire state of Iowa and was the second large storm of its kind in as many weeks.

Residents of Joetown, a small township community south of Brenneman’s property, saw the most widespread damage – some residents in Joetown experienced no damage at all while others had fallen trees, damaged siding, broken decks and more. One building in particular saw major structural damage due to the storm.

After the EF-1 tornado left Joetown, it traveled north to Brenneman’s property. Brenneman seemed to take the brunt of the storm, seeing the most concentrated area of destruction.

After the tornado had its way with Brenneman’s property, it seemingly dissipated in the corn fields surrounding the area, not causing any more damage.

Of course, the storm still produced heavy rainfall and strong winds that knocked over trees, caused blackouts and woke the communities that surround Kalona.

Brenneman, like many others, was caught by surprise.

“Last year, we were all hunkered down because it was daytime,” Brenneman said in reference to a tornado that struck close to home in March 2023. It differs because this tornado stuck while Brenneman was still asleep, only to wake as the tornado was already overhead.

Brenneman remarked he is not a morning person but after this storm, he and many others like him will likely sleep with one eye open, preparing for any storm lurking at the horizon – even ones that strike before daybreak.