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And the wind blew!

In to the Wind

July 19, 2011
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Some of you will remember through my ramblings in this space that I am an Iowa boy, firmly planted in Iowa soil. Through circumstances only God could control I spent twenty-four years in SW Florida. My last full year there, 2004, I suffered through four hurricanes. As VP of Operations for a communications company there, I watched in amazement behind a panel of bullet proof glass in the lobby of my building as Hurricane Charley trashed Port Charlotte, Florida. I learned then the power of nature could be awesome.

On July 11, 2011 a hurricane hit Iowa. Elaine, Jessica and I watched from the relative safety of our living room, through an open front door as an awesome storm raged. Jessica bent down to see below the overhang on the front porch and told me my tower was bent over. I thought she was fooling and bent down to take a peek. Sure enough, the top third of the tower was bent down, with the now top section looking like the curve in a roller coaster.

There had been a rigging rope on the tower which somehow had wrapped around a large tree down wind. That rope kept the bent over top part of the tower from banging back against the lower straight section and bashing all of the equipment to bits.

In about 40 minutes, start to finish, the storm was over.

It started shortly after three in the morning – the weather radio was going off every five minutes or so. As the storm got closer, a sense of urgency swept over me and I stopped just pressing the silence button and got up to investigate.

I took the storm spotters course a while back and am a storm spotter. At about fifteen minutes past four I saw an impressive looking wall cloud coming from the west. Then the winds began and it started raining. At about twenty past, the winds kicked up a notch. I started seeing debris and tree parts flying past the open door. The lightning display was truly awesome.

I watched in amazement as the wind blew as hard as I had seen it blow (since hurricane Charley) for a solid twenty minutes. Just as quickly as it had arrived, those devil winds were gone. We were able to step outside and survey the damage.

Besides the tower being folded over, huge trees and very large limbs were strewn around the yard and adjoining timber. The back yard was nearly covered with leaves and small branches. It looked very much like what I saw in Port Charlotte after hurricane Charley.

The bent over tower meant we didn’t have Internet, and neither did a couple hundred other people in families served by our fixed wireless Internet business. There was no electricity, so I couldn’t turn on the television to see what had happened. I had to scramble to find a battery powered radio and managed to listen to WHO and hear some reports regarding the storm.

From the preliminary reports, it was easy to see that many had suffered a fate far worse than we did here. Our house wasn’t damaged, the machine shed and office seemed to be OK, and nobody was hurt. The rest of the day Monday I worked to clear the lane of debris and make an assessment of what I needed to do.

On Tuesday, I took this little computer into town to connect to the wireless network at Carrington Place and start my research. Over the previous twenty-four hours Elaine and I made the decision to salvage the tower and the business. That decision did not come easily. Several years ago I made the decision to accept the risk of not insuring the tower assets of the corporation. I built everything myself, and knew it was over engineered.

The main tower foundation contains six thousand pounds of steel and almost sixty yards of concrete. The foundation is engineered to withstand one hundred and fifty mile an hour winds. The tower itself is engineered to withstand a hundred and ten mile an hour wind for a five minute duration. The norm for towers in Iowa and engineering standards are to build to withstand eighty mile an hour gusts for five minutes. I over engineered the tower and accepted the risk. After all, a hurricane could never hit Iowa, could it?

I made some preliminary calls and started making a plan. I needed to find a twenty foot section of tower, a good climber, and a very tall crane. Our tower is a free standing tower, meaning it has no guy wires. The sections taper from very wide and large at the bottom to thin and wispy at the top. It is a Rohn 9N. This means it is a nine section tower, with each section being twenty feet long. We needed a section three. It would be three weeks for delivery of a new section from the Rohn factory. I needed to find one on the ground and in inventory somewhere.

A blaze of calls, a blur of conversations, and on Wednesday, I had Sam Birkhead from Arco Towers driving up from Arkansas pulling a trailer with the tower section and a commitment to climb and help in the recovery operation. Tyse Gunderson from Dave’s Crane Service in Union, Iowa committed to bring a two hundred foot crane and crew here on Thursday. I had a plan; the business might survive after all.

Shortly after dawn on the third day Sam showed up. We had put him up at Meskwaki after his ten hour drive. We talked about our strategy. Around eight the crane arrived.

In one of the most fluid and efficient recovery operations I’ve ever seen, the tower was fixed by eleven. New cables and the one damaged radio were in place and we were back in business by four thirty. The customers all started coming back on line; that is the ones with power.

Nature is awesome! The power of nature can also be breathtaking, and absolute in demonstrating just how powerful it can be.

A new event happened which will forever bind Iowans. Where were you when the hurricane of July 11, 2011 hit?

Until next time--

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on the “Local Columns” button at the bottom of the page.

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2011 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.

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