Nasty Storm but Minor Damage

Wall Cloud Martelle 06_16_2014

Wall Cloud – Eastern Linn County near Martelle, Iowa at 9:30 PM


Hello and welcome.  Would you believe that picture was taken in pitch black conditions?   As a wicked storm rolled in, I was making videos of intense lightning in hopes of capturing some usable footage for some fun special effects clips.

Earlier in the day, severe thunderstorms lashed the area.  I was working at the time.   The poor girl taking money at the drive-up window was getting drenched with each transaction.  All the while I cooked food in the kitchen but kept watching the free show.  Every time she opened the window, the paper towel rolls would blow over, the cleaning fluid bottles teetered, and rain would blow in… sideways!  We were all happy when the storm soon passed without the terrible hail that some places in the county had received.

But when I got home, there was an unpleasant surprise.  A very large branch fell from the tree by where the van is parked, narrowly missing it by 20 or so feet.  It would have severely damaged the vandwelling and would have easily crushed the solar panel.  Thankfully, the only damage was to the TV antenna mast – it had flipped over – but it is a simple repair.

antenna mountWhen I came up with the idea for the plastic PVC antenna mount, high winds were anticipated.  The pivoting base is secure but the top was made weaker than the metal bracket below.  I always figured the half-moon shaped PVC piece of pipe would break.  Causing the same effect, the wood screws simply pulled out and the mast rotated forward; the mast tube and antenna to laid down on the ladder rack… five or so inches ahead of the solar panel!

It sure is cool when a half-planned, rinky-dink contraption works.  I should have it fixed this evening… as good as new!

Lightning over the areaAnother storm (the one you see in the opening picture) came through later in the evening.  It spawned numerous tornadoes and funnel clouds all over the area, with one of the hardest hit areas in Fayette County near West Union.

Our immediate area had a tornado warning though I was unaware.  The weather radio was in the van and I was in the cornfield looking up.  As the wall cloud approached it was occasionally lit up by lightning.  Only when I heard a roar similar to a jet engine did it occur to me how bad things were.  A sound like a train or jet is indicative of a funnel cloud or tornado near by.

Just like a scene from the Wizard of Oz, leaves and such started blowing around and little kitty Bear Bear came running up to me meowing her heart out.  I agreed with her message, scooped up the cat, and we headed for the machine shed as the torrential rain started.  It made me wonder if she had come out to warn me to come inside.  I sure like that little cat.

This morning the news is full of stories about damage from the storms… something we see often in late spring… and we’re under the gun for more bad weather tonight.  It’s a typical late spring day in Iowa!  There’s never a dull moment!

Have a good day and thanks for visiting.

Brad and Serena in eastern Iowa


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About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"

9 Responses to Nasty Storm but Minor Damage

  1. Meg says:

    Wow, that’s scary. We heard about the tornadoes in Nebraska – local Philly weather actually tweeted a pic – so I’m not surprised you got some bad weather too. As you said, it’s that time of year… And really, those storms are about the only thing I *don’t* miss from Colorado.

    Poor little kitty… I’m glad you’re all safe.

    • VanTrekker says:

      It was pretty nasty last night… and widespread. The antenna mount is fixed already. (TV is a priority.) We are looking at more of that nasty stuff during the night tonight. It really helps to be “sky aware”, especially when living in a vehicle! This year we are making up for the lack of severe weather in 2013. If it’s not the tornadoes, it’s the blizzards. 🙂

      Have a great one! — VT

  2. Jerry says:

    Hi Brad

    Maybe you need to move your van into the root cellar 🙂 I’m glad to hear that no matter what the weather my junk mail & food at Mickey D’s is safe and being delivered no matter what. I’m glad you were safe also.

    I’ve decided to try a Midnight classic 150 CC which Midnight said could charge Lithium batteries at a steady 13.5 volts – then I will get some Lithium batteries. I really can’t believe at how shitty L16 flooded batteries are. Rated at 400 amp hours if you drain them over 20 hours , if drained at 60 amps to run an ac you might get 150 if your really lucky. They are even crappie even if your adding power on the solar side. With the Lithium rated at 100AH – you can drain out 100 amps for 1 hour – before you hit zero, if drained over 20 hours you might get 115 AH. it’s insane how we are defrauded on battery ratings. Besides giving 600-900 cycles vs 2,000 to 3,000 for Lithium. of course it’s more money up front but in the long run & daily performance I would expect day & night difference.

    I always get a kick when some CT owners says they have a new 50 watt panel, PMW charge controller, the best T105 golf cart battery, 2,000 $75 inverter & they are so happy with how it runs all their stuff. 🙂 in the summer 1 x 250 panel on 225 AH battery will do 600-700 watts enought to run my 63Q ARB fridge and a small fan. On 1,000 + watts you can live – but no AC 🙁

    In 4 weeks I should know if it’s true – but from my research & what others have said – I should be able to almost cool Arizona in July 🙂 will let you know how it turns out

    Cheers Jerry

    • VanTrekker says:

      Hi Jerry,

      The rotating winds aren’t so bad… unless one is talking about old hag on the bicycle with the dog in the basket. (Just kidding)

      Too bad about those lithium batteries. I was hoping they’d work for you – especially for what they cost. I agree with the battery rating observation. It’s like horsepower ratings on a car… The numbers don’t mean a lot… and if you do try to pull that much performance, it kills to longevity.

      Like you, I chuckle when I see those posts about the smaller systems that do everything. When buying something that small it’s all but certain that someone will buy another system later… Been there, done that, and go screwed on junk from Harbor Freight… (and I keep going back for more!) The solar panel / controller / and AGM batteries chosen for the van turned out to cover all the needs… and more… for the last few years. $$$$$

      I bought fairly cheap, ridiculously large batteries for my power needs. I never use them for the microwave any more – only shore power or generator. They usually don’t go below 80% (and rarely even get that low). During this time of the year I’m running about 14 AH drain at night (2 or 3 fans, CPAP, TV, laptop charger). We’re at 88% to 90% come morning. Now and then I’ll let them go a little farther just to give them some exercise. So far they work as well as when new. I think it’s just based on the “driven on Sunday by a little old lady from Pasadena” usage.

      Ratings… uggg… I know from experience from car batteries, many have a high capacity but don’t last for shi* any more… I think the one I had trouble with was a “DuraCrap” combo type battery from that Au*o Z*ne car parts place.

  3. Pleinguy says:

    Hope the bad weather passes by without incident and you stay safe. Animals seem to have a sense about danger; it’s good you paid attention.

    • VanTrekker says:

      Good morning… It’s a lot more dangerous being in the country. Tornadoes spin up pretty easily, not to mention the straight line winds. My antenna was good for about 60 miles an hour. The other day they rated the gust at 74 MPH in the city, likely higher in the country. You’re right… The animals really do seem to know about coming danger.

  4. Jerry says:


    There are only two secrets to solar & batteries. 1.) don’t let either get to hot. I get a kick from Arizona guys with 3,000 watt system and outside batteries at 110 & nothing works !! 2.) don’t let low / discharged batteries get below freezing – sure death. Besides at 10-20 deg F battery looses 50% already. So far I had very good luck ( except – with 2 flying panels ) with solar & I’m sure lithium batteries will work good for me. Thinking about getting 400 to 600 AH set & will work out deal to make a few penny’s if I can sell more – with my traveling example. next month – then ill know for sure.

    Cheers Jerry

    • VanTrekker says:

      I hear ya on the cold thing, Jerry. Living in Iowa, we’re all too familiar with frozen batteries. My understanding is that a discharged battery has water and will freeze and crack… a sure death! We lose a LOT of car batteries during the summer, too. With the hot weather, everyone runs his/her car air conditioner on short trips. at least as many batteries poop out from the heat! I keep the AGM batteries on a float charge all winter long to keep them up at all times.

  5. Jerry says:

    Yea Brad

    If its like 100 outside – that about 42 deg C @ 50 deg C is when lots of batteries reach death ( it’s like 105 fever for us , 108 and your dead) – so under the hood it might easily got to 50 deg C & if you charging a battery to boot – good night Charlie. I was lucky in the Mohavie at 115 F when my car was new & I left it idle with the AC on ….. Not sure I would do that now its 5 years old. I think if a battery is in good shape and fully charged its good till a -20 F.

    For a house AC I tell people turn it off when it’s over 98 – at that temp around, 100 plus it no longer transfers heat, the pressure goes up and the compressor blowers up – like getting a stoke with high blood pressure. That why on the hottest days the AC guys rake in the big bucks – follow my advice run AC early am and when over 98 – just suffer & turn it off , some of the good quality Chinese AC work up to 118 deg F over there the temps & humidity are more extreme – so they have better equipment then we do. A 12-15k Fujitsu mini split SEER 27 rating costs $1500 to $1800 a same size window unit is maybe $400 to $500 . The fujitsu cools to 118 deg outside & heats down to 7 deg F , our crappie american units work from 45 heating to 100 cooling a HUGH DIFFERANCE !!