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Winnebago, Hancock Counties largely spared extensive damage from strong storms

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When a bow-echo line of fast-moving thunder and wind storms raced across most of Iowa on the night of Dec. 15 at speeds of around 85 miles per hour at times, most of Winnebago and Hancock Counties were largely spared of anything more than tree damages.

There were exceptions, one of which was BC Tire & Auto in Buffalo Center, which is located at 101 1st Avenue Northwest in Buffalo Center. Reported straight line winds peeled the roof off the business.

The former Buffalo Center fire station in Winnebago County, now a storage building, was damaged by the roof debris from the BC Tire & Auto building. Debris from the tire shop roof was scattered for blocks after the Dec. 15-16 storm.

Winnebago and Hancock Counties emergency response coordinator Andy Buffington said it was mostly straight line winds between 60-80 miles per hour in both counties. However, some areas got some higher velocities.

"Extensive damages or emergencies, no, but we had some isolated areas with structural damages," Buffington said. "BC Tire lost a roof and on the west side of Garner some farm buildings and residences may have received some minor damages, according to what I've heard."

Buffington said that despite strong storm front winds and sustained winds for hours after the initial front passed, the largest extent of damage in the two counties was to trees.

"We knew in advance what this was probably going to be like," Buffington said. "We were probably fortunate that we didn't seem to have the more extensive damage like some of our neighbors to the east."

Britt City hall staff reported only being aware of some down trees and limbs, saying they had received no calls related to the storm the next morning

"Britt was lucky," Britt Police Chief Mark Anderson said. "We didn't have any (damage) reports."

Damage reports in Forest City were almost non-existent as well.

"We fared pretty well," Forest City administrator/clerk Daisy Huffman said. "We got lucky. We picked up a few branches and took down two trees that fell over."

Huffman said the biggest storm issue in Forest City was a power outage that started around 6:30 p.m. across the town. Forest City contracts with Dairyland Power Cooperative of Wisconsin for wholesale power and Dairyland had an outage. Fortunately, Forest City Municipal Electric also has its own electric generating plant which was up an running by about 7:30 p.m. with all the town's customers back on at that time.

"It took about an hour to get it back online and fully restored to everyone," Huffman said. "Normally, it would be a little faster than that, but we've been doing some projects right now. Actually, today was the day to exercise the engines at the plant, but about all of them were up and running last night. That made for an easier day today."

Huffman said that the Forest City electric plant ran through 10 p.m. before cutting back over, coordinating with Dairyland and Alliant Energy Company. She also reported that city line crews were called out to the former Super 8 motel, now Forest City Inn on the south end of town. The crews worked through the night to restore power to the motel. She said that a possible cause of the outage there was electric lines "slapping together" amidst the strong, sustained winds.

Residents of Fertile, which receives electric service from Alliant utility subsidiary Interstate Power and Light Company, were reportedly without electricity through the night. Power was supposed to be largely restored there by mid-morning on Dec. 16.

Rob Hillesland is community editor for the Summit-Tribune. He can be reached at 641-421-0534, or by email at


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