Oelwein, IA

Community Visited: 06/16/11
Community Recognized: 07/07/11
Community Ceremony: 09/26/11


On Thursday June 16, 2011, a site verification visit was made to Oelwein, IA, a community applying to become 'StormReady' for NWS La Crosse

Verification team members included:

  • Tim Halbach, Lead Forecaster/Meteorologist, NWS La Crosse
  • Todd Shea, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, NWS La Crosse

Community Information

Oelwein, IA is in southern Fayette County in northeast Iowa.  Terrain is flat, with some gradual hills.  The Oelwein area has a few small sloped creeks but is not in a specific river basin. It is on a broad ridge that serves as a headwater area for part of the Wapsipinicon and Volga Rivers.  Extensive flooding was reported in July 2010 from heavy rainfall.  Population was 6,692 in 2000 and 6,415 in 2010.

The main StormReady contacts are Fire Chief Wallace Rundle and Fire Department Captain Mike Thoma.  Both are very pro-active with regards to weather monitoring, spotting, and alerting their community.  Chief Rundle was part of the department when the community was hit by a tornado in 1968.


24 Hour Warning Point

The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is located at the Oelwein Fire Station near downtown Oelwein.  A backup 24-hour warning point is next door at city hall within the city police department dispatch center.

At the fire station, here are the methods NWS information is monitored:

  • County / Fire Frequencies (Communication with West Union / Oelwein PD)
  • Internet
  • Amateur Radio
  • NOAA Weather Radio
  • Television

Pros: Community officials keep track of weather forecasts quite well and are very in tune with severe weather risks when they might impact southern parts of Fayette County.  In addition to notification from county officials, they monitor NWS information via the Internet, NOAA Weather Radio, and television.  Weather radio signal is strong in this part of the county via the transmitter in Bremer Co. (Waterloo transmitter).  Extensive radio networks/frequencies allow information from the EOC to quickly reach fire department personnel and/or spotters who are deployed.  There is backup communications equipment in the garage and basement of the fire station, in addition to the police department next door.

Cons: Might be nice for community officials to sign up for free text message warning services via local media or iNWS if they are not already.

For a community this size, four (4) are required.   Monitoring at the EOC is in addition to receiving information from the warning point at the county level (Fayette County Sheriff Dept. / West Union). 

Note:  For great communication during the May 2008 tornado outbreak that hit Parkersburg / New Hartford, an award was given to a dispatcher at the Oelwein Police Dept. in 2009.


Hydro-Meteorological Monitoring

The airport at Oelwein has an automated weather station (AWOS) and the Fire Dept. Captain (M.Thoma) maintains a cooperative weather station in town.  They also have a rain gauge and have plans to replace the weather station on the fire department roof in 2011.  They also deploy several handheld anemometers when spotting.

For a community this size, two (2) monitoring methods are required.  Internet and television sources also provide monitoring capability.


Local Warning Dissemination

Oelwein has five (5) sirens, including four around town and 1 older model on the roof of the fire station.  The sirens are activated from within Oelwein but can be triggered from the fire or police stations and have backup power sources.  We visited one siren location in town that was strategically placed on a hill near the middle school, the high school, the hospital, the athletic field, and nursing homes.

They normally activate them when under a warning or when local observations suggest an immediate threat, warning or no warning. They are tested monthly (on or near the 15th of every month).

Oelwein also has multiple radio frequencies and truncking to communicate threats with other officials in town or out spotting.  They have group text message networks and plans for siren use with emergency vehicles.  Fire department equipment can be dispersed if a tornado or flash flood is imminent.  This reduces the likelihood of damage or confinement in one area of town (which happened in 1968).

For a community this size, only one (1) method is required.  The local Alert Broadcast system on their application was not verified.


NOAA Weather Radio Use

NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) use in Oelwein is extensive and recently expanded due to the StormReady application process.  Weather radios are located at the fire station, city hall, the police department, parks in town, schools, the swimming pool, baseball field, and at the campground.  The streets, water, and waste water departments in town all got weather radios as well and enjoy having them.  We visited the Oelwein Public Library that was built in 2005.  Weather radio reception is marginal but they say the weekly tests work and they have a tornado plan for guests.  The library director also said she can hear sirens in town.

NOAA Weather Radios would normally monitor the transmitter site in Bremer County, IA (Waterloo - WXL94).  We did not verify any reception level at schools.


Preparedness

Routine safety talks are performed by the fire chief at care centers, industry, and apartments in town.

SKYWARN weather spotter training is typically held in Oelwein every other year with good attendance (Ten year average of 53).  Fire department personnel typically make up the bulk of those in attendance.


Administrative

The Oelwein fire department has numerous Emergency Actions Plan in place to handle weather spotting activations and tracks dissemination of information closely.  They are hoping the recent expansion of weather radio use in town may eliminate some of their "manual" notification needs as well.

Oelwein has always been pro-active with regards to communication to the La Crosse NWS, usually via the telephone.  They move spotters around and take advantage of relatively flat terrain to monitor conditions closely.  They take advantage of decision support services from NWS La Crosse as well.

The NWS visited Oelwein in 2009, 2010, and 2011, while officials from Oelwein last visited the NWS in September 2009 (open house).


Oelwein Fire Station fire department operations center outdoor warning sirens
Oelwein Fire Department / EOC Fire Dept. EOC One of five outdoor warning sirens
Oelwein police dispatch siren activation at fire hall Oelwein stormready recognition ceremony
Oelwein Police Dept. dispatch Siren activation in fire hall Recognition Ceremony at Sept.26, 2011 city council meeting


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