Official State of Iowa Website Here is how you know
State Historical Society of Iowa

Iowa Weather and Its Impact

Has Iowa’s weather had an impact on how Iowans live?

Weather and climate both deal with the same conditions but in a different way. Weather measures what happens over a short period of time — a day or up to a week. How warm will it be, will it rain or snow, will it be windy? These are conditions that the daily weather report tries to predict. Climate is the average of weather conditions over decades or even centuries. Climate addresses average temperatures in the spring or the rainfall that one might expect in August based on past records.

Iowa and Its Seasons

The climate in Iowa has four seasons — winter, spring, summer and fall. Within each season, however, temperatures and precipitation (rain, snowfall, hail or sleet) can vary significantly from day to day. Because Iowa’s history is so closely tied to agriculture, weather is a significant concern. Corn, soybeans and garden vegetables rely on rainfall and sunshine to mature. Cattle and sheep depend on the growth of grass and other pasture crops. Even Iowans not engaged in farming listen to the weather report to know how to dress for the day or to plan outdoor activities. If you listen to Iowans greeting each other, the weather is often one of the first topics they discuss.

While there are rarely extreme differences in weather patterns across the state, there are frequently some variations. Northern Iowa, especially the northwest, tends to be colder in the winter than southern Iowa. Southeast Iowa receives on average more rainfall each year than the northwest. In the spring, flowers may bloom two or three weeks earlier in southern communities than along Iowa’s border with Minnesota. Leaves turn color earlier in the north.

Extreme Weather

Iowa experiences its share of extreme weather conditions. Tornadoes are rapidly whirling columns of air than may or may not touch ground. When they do, they can cause devastation and even fatalities. Tornadoes are most likely in Iowa in the spring and early summer, but they can develop through fall months as well. A cyclone also brings very strong winds but over a larger area and without the whirling columns of a tornado.

A blizzard is marked by heavy snowfall and driving winds. The word "blizzard" is the creation of a newspaper editor in Estherville, O.C. Bates, who made it up to describe a late snow storm in 1871. Heavy rainfalls over a short period may cause Iowa’s rivers to flood their banks. In recent years, 1993 and 2008 recorded devastating floods.

Because of the importance of weather, the government has created the National Weather Bureau in 1890 to track weather conditions across country. A professional who studies weather conditions is called a meteorologist. Scientists are now claiming that temperatures all over the earth are warming up slightly but significantly because humans are burning gasoline, coal and other fuels that give off gasses that trap heat within the atmosphere. This process is called global warming. We may not notice differences in day-to-day weather but if warming continues, what we know of Iowa’s climate today may not be the same a hundred years from now.

Supporting Questions

What are some of the notable weather events that have impacted Iowa and its citizens?

How has Iowa’s weather affected Iowans?

What have Iowans done in response to Iowa’s extreme weather?

Iowa Weather and Its Impact Source Set Teaching Guide
Printable Image and Document Guide

"Tornado Rips Oelwein" Newspaper Article, May 16, 1968

Image
Oelwein Daily Register story written by Mike Mahoney on May 16th, 1968, that describes the destructive F-5 tornado that ravaged Oelwein, Charles City, and Maynard, Iowa.  The tornado killed 4 in Oelwein and caused an estimated $10-30 million dollars of damage.

Download Resource

Description

This is a newspaper article published in The Oelwein Daily Register on May 16, 1968, that details the story of a destructive F-5 tornado that ravaged Oelwein, Charles City and Maynard, Iowa. The tornado killed four people in Oelwein and caused an estimated…

Read More

"Outstanding Iowa Storms" Essay from The Annals of Iowa, 1970

Image
Annals of Iowa entry entitled, “Outstanding Iowa Storms.” published in 1970.

Download Resource

Description

This essay from The Annals of Iowa, written by meteorologist Paul Waite, is about noteworthy, weather-related storms in Iowa. Published in 1970, Waite details some of the most significant weather storms (including winter storms, blizzards and tornadoes) that date…

Read More

"Iowa Under Siege" Newspaper Articles, June 10, 2008

Image
Article “Dire Warning Issued for I.C.” from the Cedar Rapids Gazette describing the current and potential flooding in Iowa City

Download Resource

Description 

These 2008 Cedar Rapids Gazette articles describe the current and potential flooding in Iowa City and other eastern Iowa communities, as well as how it could impact the University of Iowa campus.  

Read More

"Yep, This Year’s Drier than ‘88" Newspaper Article, August 1, 2012

Image
Cedar Rapids Gazette article written by Orlan Love on August 1st, 2012.  The article describes the drought of 2012 and compares it to the 1988 drought that significantly impacted the State of Iowa.

Download Resource

Description 

This newspaper article from the August 1, 2012, was published by The Cedar Rapids Gazette. It describes the drought of 2012 and compares it to the 1988 drought that significantly impacted farming in Iowa. The article details why the drought occurs, as well as the…

Read More

Cabinet Card of Relics from Cherokee-Pomeroy Tornado near Aurelia, Iowa, 1893

Image
Photo of a board and fire shovel impaled into tree trunks from a tornado near Cherokee/Pomeroy, Iowa, in 1893.

Download Resource

Description 

This cabinet card photograph shows relics of the 1893 Cherokee-Pomeroy tornado collected from "Slater's Farm," which was located 3 miles south of Aurelia, Iowa.

Read More

Portrait of 6-Month-Old Baby Carried by Cherokee-Pomeroy Tornado, 1893

Image
Picture of a 6-month old baby who allegedly was carried nearly 1 mile by a tornado that hit Pomeroy, Iowa, in July of 1893.

Download Resource

Description

This cabinet card photograph shows a 6-month-old child who was allegedly carried three-quarters of a mile by the Cherokee-Pomeroy tornado of July 6, 1893.

Read More

Iowa Public Television's "The Dust Bowl," 1979

Image
Video of testimonies from Iowans who lived through the Dust Bowl and how it impacted their lives

Description

This 1979 video was produced by Iowa Public Television. It focused on the impact of the Dust Bowl on Iowa farms and farmers.

Read More

Iowa Public Television's "Midwest Farm Fields Devastated by Floods," 2008

Image
Video about the impact of the 2008 flooding had on Midwestern farmland and Iowa farmers.

Description 

This Iowa Public Television video was produced in 2008 and focused on how Midwestern farm fields were destroyed by severe 2008 flooding. The video also covered how farmers were dealing with the crisis.

Read More

Men Placing Sandbags to Reinforce Dikes during a Flood in Council Bluffs, Iowa, 1952

Image
Photo of several men working to fill and place sandbags to reinforce dikes during flooding that took place along the Missouri River in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1952.

Download Resource

Description

This photograph shows workers filling and placing sandbags to reinforce dikes during Missouri River flooding in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The severe flooding occurred in April 1952.

Read More

Iowa Public Television's "Iowa After the 2008 Parkersburg Tornado," 2008

Image
Video produced by Iowa Public Television that details the damage from an F-5 tornado in 2008 that destroyed the South side of Parkersburg, Iowa, as well as the recovery process that took place immediately afterwards.

Description 

This video was produced by Iowa Public Television, and it details the devastation of the F-5 tornado that ripped through Parkersburg, Iowa, in 2008. The video details the damage, as well as the recovery effort, of those affected by the tornado.

Read More

"Cedar Rapids Flood Buyout is History" Newspaper Article, September 14, 2014

Image
Newspaper article from the Cedar Rapids Gazette in September, 2014 that details the historic flood buyout that took place after the devastating 2008 flooding.

Download Resource

Description

This newspaper article from the The Cedar Rapids Gazette in September 2014 details the historic flood buyout that took place after the devastating 2008 flooding. Funds totaling millions of dollars were spent to purchase residential and commercial land owned in the…

Read More

NPR's "MAP: FEMA Is Buying Out Flood-Prone Homes, But Not Where You Might Expect," October 20, 2014

Image
FEMA buyout information, analyzed and published by NPR in 2014, detailing the amount of money spend by FEMA since 2003 and the 10 largest buyouts in United States History, where Iowa is number 2 with nearly $37 million dollars in 2008.

Download Resource

Description 

From National Public Radio’s analysis of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) data, this map shows the total amount paid to property owners (by county), since 2003, and a chart of the 10 biggest disaster buyout totals.

Read More

Additional Resources

  • "City in Iowa Rebuilds From Flooding but Remains Vulnerable" Newspaper Article
    This New York Times newspaper article by John Eligon focuses on the recovery of eastern Iowa five years after horrific and destructive flooding. 
  • Peoples' Weather Map
    The Peoples' Weather Map (PWM) is a web-based map of severe weather stories in Iowa (U.S.). On the map, users can explore historical and recent severe weather events, through words and images, in individual counties. PWM's emphasis is, in fact, stories rather than data, but the map also provides users links to weather hazard and climate data to explore. Through videotaped interviews, PWM introduces some of Iowa’s climate scientists. 
  • "Snowstorms and Iowa’s High School State Basketball Tournaments" Facts
    This factsheet created by the National Weather Service focuses on the snowfall and extreme weather that typically happens the last two weeks of March, which is typically when the Iowa high school basketball state tournament occurs. 
  • "The Top Five Iowa Floods"
    This National Weather Service report looks at the first worst floods to ever occur in Iowa. They were selected as follows: 1) 1993 (Statewide), 2) 2008 (Eastern Iowa), 3) 1851 (Des Moines River Basin), 4) July 4, 1876 (Rockdale), T5) 1965 (Mississippi River), T5) 1952 (Missouri River). 

 

Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (6th-12th Grade)

Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are high school-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for 6th through 12th grade students.

No. Standard Description
SS.6.17. Analyze and explain the cultural, physical, and environmental characteristics of places and regions and how this affects the life of the people who live there.
SS-Geo.9-12.16. Analyze relationships and interactions within and between human and physical systems to explain reciprocal influences
SS-Geo.9-12.23. Analyze the consequences of human-made and natural catastrophes on global trade, politics, and human migration