December 30, 2002
The National Weather Service in Lake Charles issued a Tornado Warning for Calcasieu Parish at 11:43 pm. By 11:55 pm, the tornado had touched down in the northwestern sections of Iowa. The tornado was on the ground for just a few minutes, but it devastated homes and businesses along a two-to-three mile path.
The tornado originated in a field behind Iowa High School. Damage at the school was confined to a few outbuildings and fences around some of the fields. However, a Louisiana State Police patrol car was damaged near the school when a large tree limb hit the right side and trunk. A small bird was blown into the grill of the car.
Across the street from the patrol car, a home lost many shingles. Several homes in this area received damage to roof shingles. However, several large workshops or sheds in backyards were completely destroyed, like this one. When the tornado picked up debris from this shed, it slung it at a high rate of speed into two neighboring homes. Winds were estimated to be in the 100 to 110 mph range at this time, making the storm an F1 tornado (For more information on the Fujita Tornado Scale, click here).
The roof of one home was nearly sawed in two by flying debris from the workshop across the street. The neighbors home had similar damage. You can see some debris impaled into the roof here. This is the home where the lady lying in bed received a black eye. Debris being driven at great rates of speed can even be driven several feet into the ground. When the National Weather Service issues a tornado or severe thunderstorm warning, people should take the threat seriously. Move to an interior portion of your home or business where flying debris will not be able to reach you.
The tornado continued its path of destruction and hit Emery's Restaurant next. Most of the metal roof of the building was ripped off. Portions of this roof landed over a half-mile away, behind the Factory Stores of America outlet mall.
Speaking of the mall, a large section of the west wall caved in when debris was tossed into it. Large garbage bins were picked up and thrown over 100 feet into the parking lot. One garbage bin landed on an eight-foot tree, flattening it. Portions of the roof, including sections of various air conditioning units, landed in the parking lot on the north side of the mall.
This storm hit around midnight. Many people interviewed did not hear the tornado coming before it was too late - that is why it is important for every home to have a NOAA Weather Radio. These special radios sit quietly until the National Weather Service issues a warning for your area. When the National Weather Service sees a tornado developing on radar, they will issue a warning, which activates the alert feature on the weather radio. The radio will sound an alarm like an alarm clock, alerting you to the dangerous weather situation.
Stay prepared before the storm strikes. No one knows when the next tornado will hit, but we can be ready and have a plan before the storm hits.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact Roger Erickson, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, by e-mail or phone at 337-477-5285.