The Iowa State Fair.
A hiking trail in western Iowa.

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The Des Moines Area

The Des Moines metropolitan area encompasses portions of four counties in central Iowa – Polk, Warren, Madison, and Dallas. The majority of the city and population are located within Polk County.


As of the 2000 census there were 456,022 people living within the metro area, with 198,682 of those living within the city limits of Des Moines itself. In 2007 the metro population was estimated to have grown to over 520,000, and is projected to exceed 770,000 by 2025. The population is nearly 80% Caucasian, but there are several notable immigrant communities including those of recent southeastern Asian, Hispanic, and eastern European descent.

Photo of Des Moines river and downtown Des Moines.
Downtown Des Moines and the Des Moines River


Housing is readily available in the form of single-family homes, condominiums, duplexes, rental apartments, etc. In January 2009, the median price range for an existing single-family residence in the Des Moines metro area was $150,000 to $200,000. Real estate values in central Iowa are much less volatile than in other parts of the country.

Property tax/sales tax/income tax info:

- Property taxes in central Iowa are based on a valuation roll-back and owners are allowed a homestead exemption of $4850. Taxes for a $150,000 home in central Iowa range from around $2,100 to $3,000 per year for FY 2009.

- Iowa has a state sales tax of 5%. In addition, several counties around the state are authorized to collect a local options tax, generally 1-2%. Polk County currently has a 1% local options tax, for a total sales tax of 6%.

- Iowa income tax is on a graduated scale. Tax rates begin at 0.36% for any income over zero, and climb to 8.98% on all income amounts above approximately $60,000. Federal tax deductibility is allowed for Iowa taxes.


- Iowa State University is located in Ames, approximately 30 miles north of Des Moines and Simpson College is located in Indianola, approximately 15 miles south of Des Moines. Drake University, Grand View University, and the Des Moines Area Community College are all located within the Des Moines metro area.

- Public schools within the city of Des Moines have over 30,000 students enrolled in 63 schools for the 2008-09 school year.


- Interstates 80 and 35 pass through Des Moines, providing convenient vehicular access to the rest of the region and country. Interstate 235 also cuts through the city.

- The public transit system consists entirely of buses, with regular in-city and suburban commuter routes.

- Downtown Des Moines boasts a 3.5 mile long skywalk system which allows pedestrian travel throughout the downtown business district without exposure to the elements.

- The Des Moines International Airport provides air travelers with non-stop service to destinations around the country.


- Des Moines is a major regional and national center for the insurance, financial services, and publishing industries. Agriculture is also a mainstay of the Iowa economy.

- In 2000 the median household income within the metro area was $44,667 and the median family income was $52,617.


- The Des Moines area offers countless parks with opportunities for camping, hiking, biking, fishing, and other outdoor activities. Saylorville Lake, located just north of the city (and about a mile from the NWS office), is also a popular destination for water sports and birding.

State Fair

- Local festivals are commonplace in the metro and surrounding smaller communities from spring through fall. The Iowa State Fair takes place each August in Des Moines and is the largest social gathering in the state, attracting about a million visitors per year. There is also a large Farmer’s Market in downtown Des Moines during the summer and fall months.

- Des Moines features an art center, opera, symphony, ballet, science museum, zoo, botanical garden, the state Capitol, the state’s largest amusement park, and numerous other attractions including broadway shows, concerts, small live music venues, and comedy clubs.

- There are several shopping districts, with the most popular being the East Village downtown, as well as malls throughout the metro. The largest shopping mall is the Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines, which features over 150 stores, restaurants, and other businesses, as well as a 3.5 acre lake surrounded by walking and biking trails, live music in the summer, and a 20-screen digital movie theater.

- There are several professional sports teams in Des Moines, including arena football, AHL and USHL hockey, AAA baseball, NBADL basketball, and PDL soccer, as well as collegiate sporting events (including the nationally famous Drake Relays). The Iowa Speedway in Newton (approximately a 30-45 minute drive from Des Moines) features auto racing and NASCAR events.


Located in the heart of North America, Des Moines has a climate which is continental in character. This results in a marked seasonal contrast in both temperature and precipitation. Because agriculture is the primary and traditional economic engine of the region, it is convenient to separate the year into seasons corresponding to the growing of crops. The winter season, when most plant life is dormant, is from mid-November to late March. The summer season, when corn and soybeans are grown, lasts from early May to early October. The spring growing season and the fall harvest season each run about 6 weeks.

Western Iowa

Annual precipitation can vary anywhere from a minimum of about 17 inches to a maximum of about 56 inches. The average annual snowfall is 36 inches. Annual variation of snowfall is also large, ranging from a minimum of about 8 inches to as much as 72 inches.

Winter is a season of cold dry air much of the time, interrupted by milder Pacific air brought in by the Chinook winds out of the northern Rockies. Winter storms of short duration are an occasional occurrence. At the beginning and end of the winter season precipitation may occur as rain, but during the heart of the season it mainly falls as snow. Drifting snow can be extensive and impede transportation at times, especially in rural areas. Freezing rain, though not rare, seldom accumulates to a thickness of one quarter of an inch or more. The average precipitation during winter is approximately 20 percent of the annual amount. Although occasional cold waves follow the storms, bitterly cold days in which the temperature fails to rise above zero occur on an average of only once every 2 to 3 years.

The average growing season (when temperatures remain above 32 degrees) normally spans 160 to 165 days between late April and mid-October. The growing season is characterized by prevailing southerly winds and precipitation falling primarily as showers and thunderstorms, occasionally producing damaging wind, erosive downpours or hail. Some 60 percent of the annual precipitation amount falls in the summer with the maximum rate normally in late May and June. Autumn is characteristically sunny with diminishing precipitation and generally decreasing temperature, conditions favorable for drying and harvesting crops.

Useful Web Links:

Web pages for the city of Des Moines and its surrounding suburbs:

Des Moines





Polk City

Pleasant Hill


West Des Moines is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.