Tornado Outbreak Takes Down Massive Wind Turbines in Iowa

May 24, 2024 by Dan McCue
Tornado Outbreak Takes Down Massive Wind Turbines in Iowa
The remains of a tornado-damaged wind turbine touch the ground in a field, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, near Prescott, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

DES MOINES, Iowa — A tornado outbreak across much of the Midwest earlier this week brought utter devastation to the city of Greenfield, Iowa, and wreaked havoc on nearby wind farms located in Adair County.

Until Tuesday’s tornado, Greenfield’s claim to fame had been that it served as the location for the making of Norman Lear’s only film, “Cold Turkey,” starring Dick Van Dyke, Jean Stapleton, Tom Poston and Edward Everett Horton, among others.

The EF4 tornado that decimated much of the town Tuesday afternoon killed four and injured at least 35 others and it gouged a nearly straight path through the residential neighborhoods located just south of the community’s central square.

According to Donna Dubberke, meteorologist-in-charge for the National Weather Service in Des Moines, what must now be considered a historic twister reduced 153 homes to little more than bricks, kindling and debris in about a minute.

Satellite photos suggest the tornado’s path on the ground extended for more than 40 miles, taking it from Greenfield, a city of about 2,000 residents, and into the wide expanses of unincorporated Adair County, where massive wind turbines dominate the horizon.

Tuesday’s tornado and others in the same line of storms struck two wind farms operated by MidAmerican Energy in Adair County.

A tornado struck and collapsed five wind turbines at MidAmerican’s Orient wind farm and one at the Arbor Hill wind farm. 

Several turbines registered wind speeds over 100 mph as the tornado approached, before the company lost contact with its sensors and the turbines were destroyed. 

Based on several video clips posted on social media, it appears tornadoes in Adair County directly struck the wind turbines.

“First and foremost, we’re grateful that all of our wind technicians on-site were uninjured. Technicians sheltered in place at our operation and maintenance facilities, which are all equipped with storm shelters,” said Tina Hoffman, vice president of corporate communications for MidAmerican Energy in an email to The Well News.

“We’re thankful no one in the area was injured by the turbine collapses. Our thoughts are with those in nearby Greenfield who lost their lives, as well as the many others who were hurt or lost their homes due to the same severe storm outbreak,” she said.

Iowa has been a national leader in wind energy, and has the highest percentage of electricity produced by wind — over 57% as of 2022 — of any state. Iowa also ranks second nationally in the amount of wind energy installed with 12,219 MW.

The remains of a tornado-damaged wind turbine touch the ground in a field, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, near Prescott, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

MidAmerican Energy has been operating wind farms in the state since 2004. Hoffman described Tuesday’s tornado outbreak as having “an unprecedented impact on our wind fleet.”

“We have experienced only one other instance of a wind turbine collapse, which was also caused by a tornado,” she said.

Hoffman went on to note that the manufacturers the company works with design wind turbines to withstand Iowa’s ever-changing weather conditions, including severe thunderstorms and high wind events. 

“But, as we’ve seen from the damage sustained throughout several Iowa counties, few structures can withstand a direct hit by a powerful tornado such as what we experienced on Tuesday,” she said.

 Out of an abundance of caution, the company is now inspecting all of its wind facilities in areas affected by these storms before resuming operations.

 “We are continuing to assess damage to our facilities in the area and are working with our turbine manufacturers on our next steps forward,” Hoffman said.

Four other wind turbines were destroyed at the Prescott wind farm owned by RPM Access.

Just last month, members of the Central Iowa Power Cooperative had visited the newly opened 56 MW facility in Adams County, Iowa, to celebrate their agreement to purchase energy from the site.

The Prescott Wind Farm was supposed to start generating test power on May 22. The tornado hit on May 21.

“We are currently conducting clean up and securing the site,” said Felix Friedman, a project manager at RPM Access, in an email to The Well News. “We are inspecting the remaining nine turbines in the project to bring them online as fast as possible.

“[Turbine manufacturer] Vestas and all parties involved are working together to deal with this disaster,” he said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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