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A Grandmother Who Was Surprised By The Derecho On A Bike Ride Shares Her Story

The 2020 derecho took many Iowans by surprise. Some were at work, some at the hospital and some, like Susan Stoefen of New Liberty, were out and about, trying to make the most of their time before the onset of what they thought would be a standard thunderstorm. Stoefen, her husband Jerry and their granddaughter Joie were taking a quick bike ride when the weather turned. Stoefen shared her story with River to River by email.

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"It was the last week of summer for our granddaughter Joie before she left for her first semester at Drake University. We thought we would squeeze in a bicycle ride before she had to be on campus. August 10, 2020 was the date we set."

“It was the last week of summer for our granddaughter Joie before she left for her first semester at Drake University. We thought we would squeeze in a bicycle ride before she had to be on campus. August 10, 2020 was the date we set.

“Grandpa and Grandma picked up Joie in Eldridge, IA. Her mom cautioned us that there was bad weather headed this way. We looked at the radar and thought we had time to squeeze in the bike ride. We were going to Muscatine to ride the bike trail along the river. Normally I am very weather aware, as I hate lightning, but we thought that we had a couple hours before the storm would be to Muscatine. Our bike ride started at the University Ave. parking lot in Muscatine. The weather sirens sounded when we were in downtown Muscatine. We stopped and looked at the sky. It didn't look bad. The three of us discussed our options: continue on, or turn around and go back to the vehicle. I know that I really wanted to continue on, as we only had a few more miles to the turnaround point, but I also didn’t want to have my granddaughter caught in a storm. So we turned around to head back.

“A little way before Highway 22, I turned around to see where my granddaughter and husband were. I stopped to wait for them to catch up and then I saw the sky. It was ominous. I yelled at them to pedal fast. By the time we got to Highway 22 we could barely get across the road due to the wind. I had jumped off and walked across. A young man pulling a trailer with his son in it passed by.

I hopped back on my bike and within seconds the derecho wind was upon us. I thought it was a tornado. “The dirt was horrendous. I couldn’t see, sticks and leaves were hitting us. We could no longer bike and started walking. I was screaming at my granddaughter to keep her head down but it was so loud she didn’t know what I was saying. Fortunately, we had bike helmets on. We were now in a wooded section getting close to Weed Park. We could hear trees breaking and crashing and it started to rain. I was scanning the path ahead to see if there was some place to seek shelter. We came upon Weed Park and I saw an open shelter that I thought we could get under, but then I noticed the young father and son getting into a restroom further ahead. We rushed to the women’s restroom, laying our bicycles on the ground outside. We were so grateful to have found shelter! The restroom was modern and so clean due to the special daily cleaning related to COVID-19, (per the sign on the wall). It was really hot in there, but outside we could hear the trees falling, lightning and the rain. Joie texted her mom to let her know we were okay. I felt terrible that my granddaughter had to endure this. We stayed probably an hour in the restroom until the major part of the storm had subsided. My husband then walked in the rain to get our vehicle and came back to pick us up at Weed Park. He had a difficult time as there was lots of debris on the path and within the park. The father and son had stayed in the men’s restroom and emerged okay. We offered to give him a ride but he refused, said he was going to the mall to get a new pair of work shoes.

“On our way back to Eldridge, we saw the devastation from the derecho. It was unbelievable. I know that we were so fortunate to have survived and thankful that my granddaughter was okay. We had storm damage at home and was [sic] without water and power for four days. So grateful that Muscatine sounded their sirens and had a clean shelter! As my granddaughter said, ‘it was scary but also fun.’”