Peoples' Weather Map


The Tornado that Hit the Coal-fired Power Plant, Woodbury County

Woodbury county, Iowa

Image Source: Sioux City Public Museum


Tornadoes are especially unnerving—freaky—because when one is sighted forming in the clouds, a person never knows what that tornado might hit on the ground, if anything.  If it strikes a farmer’s field, depending on the season, crops or soil may be lost; but if one comes to ground and travels down a main street or moves along a residential neighborhood, the loss of human life is possible and the loss of property is great.  On July 28, 1986, Woodbury County residents and their neighbors were watching a tornado form. Some were even videotaping the storm when they realized that the funnel cloud was striking one of the four coal-fired power plants at MidAmerican Energy’s Port Neal Complex in Salix, part of the Sioux City metropolitan area on the Missouri River. When the tornado hit the mound of coal it lifted it into the air and turned the sky black.  Sparks flew from the plant, witnesses said. Newspapers later reported that this was the first strike of a power plant by a tornado in the Midwest.

When in 2013 MidAmerican converted two of the coal-fired plants at Port Neal to natural gas-burning plants, the issue was the air quality and connected health effects resulting from burning coal.  They also installed emissions control devices in the two remaining coal-fired plants. (In addition, MidAmerican quit burning coal at two boilers near Council Bluffs on the Missouri River and another near Bettendorf on the Mississippi River.)  In 2018 MidAmerican eliminated the coal ash pits (waste) at Neal North and Neal South energy centers at Port Neal in consideration of the possible effects on groundwater. News coverage of these 2013 and 2018 decisions doesn’t mention the 1986 tornado strike and the extraordinary sight that witnesses encountered that day in June.

Sources:  Sioux City Journal 1-23-2013 and 3-1-2018; “Port Neal Tornado” 1-28-1986 youtube; Iowa City Press-Citizen, 8-4-1986.