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November 19, 2009

Ottumwa begins drying out after stalled system

OTTUMWA — After three soggy days, you might think Jeff Hendred would be losing his mind.

It’s one thing to be cooped up indoors as an adult. It’s quite another to be stuck inside when you’re a child. And Hendred spends his days inside with a couple hundred children.

The relentless rains that started the week meant days of indoor recess for students at Douma Elementary School, where Hendred is principal. But students and teachers alike just rolled with the weather.

“They handled it well,” Hendred said. “Some got a little anxious.”

The system now moving out of Iowa dumped 2.12 inches of rain on Ottumwa according to the National Weather Service, though amounts did vary depending on precisely where the rain gauges were.

Kenny Podrazik of the NWS said the system was unusual.

Ottumwa’s rains came from a large low pressure system. Such storms usually track through in a day or so as they ride the jet stream across North America.

That didn’t happen this time.

There are actually two jet streams that can guide weather in the United States. The northern branch of the jet is farther into Canada than is normal this time of year, while the southern branch is over Mexico. The combination left this system to meander across the Midwest.

The east coast also has a strong high pressure ridge in place, something Podrazik said helped block this storm’s path out of Iowa.

“The jet stream right now is farther north, so it was cut off from the main flow of the atmosphere,” he said. “Usually when this kind of thing occurs, it goes on for several days.”

Wednesday was not sunny, but it was mostly dry. That was enough for many in and around Ottumwa. The break meant Geoff Kent and Rick Rachford could get back to restoring the façade on a building in the 200 block of East Second Street.

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