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Tornadoes, the IRS scandal, and high gas prices in the heartland

Watching the sky for tornadoes and watching gas prices increase to over $4 dollars a gallon - that's what I did on a mini-vacation to my Midwest home. (Linda Thomas photo)

A few days in the Midwest and I was never far from three topics that seemed to come up in every conversation – the bad weather, the IRS scandal, and rising gas prices.

During the four days I spent in Iowa for my niece’s high school graduation, we were under thunderstorm or tornado watches the majority of the time.

Growing up in the Midwest, you learn the difference between a tornado watch and a warning early on. A watch lets people know conditions are favorable for tornadoes. A warning means a funnel cloud or tornado has been spotted in the area.

We were more fortunate than the people of Oklahoma who are recovering from the rare EF-5 tornado that tore through Moore. An EF-5 is the highest category on the Enhanced Fujita Scale of Tornado Intensity, according to the National Climatic Data Center, with wind speeds of at least 200 miles per hour.

Since the early 1950s, only 59 EF-5 tornadoes have hit the USA. Unfortunately Moore, Oklahoma has been hit by two of those rare twisters.

If you want to send a $10 donation to the Disaster Relief fund via text message, you can do so by texting the word REDCROSS to 90999. As in the case with other donations via mobile, the donation will show up on your wireless bill, or be deducted from your balance if you have a prepaid phone.

On average, over 1,000 tornadoes hit the United States each year. I’ve heard “get to the basement” countless times and have been through four tornadoes that damaged buildings and uprooted trees on our farm.

While we didn’t have tornadoes on my recent trip, we had winds strong enough to take down trees, hail that dented cars and rain that kept farmers out of their fields.

Normally corn and beans would be several inches above ground by now, but most fields haven’t been planted yet. Farmers have another tough year ahead.

What do Iowans do while they wait for the weather to improve so they can do their field work? They talk politics.

You wouldn’t expect that from rural folks, but remember Iowa was the third state overall to support same-sex marriage and the first in the Midwest to allow it.

These people are politically informed and involved.

In the decades I’ve been going back to my home state I’m surprise to at how the conversations have changed.

Originally, Iowa was Republican-leaning. That changed over the years and was most dramatic when the state was the first to get behind President Barack Obama during his 2008 bid for the White House. He won the state by a landslide. In 2012, he won again but Mitt Romney wasn’t far behind.

Today, parts of the state are shifting toward the GOP again. There seemed to be universal criticism for the way Mr. Obama is doing his job with the IRS scandal.

Lois Lerner, the director of the exempt organizations unit at the Internal Revenue Service, plans to invoke the Fifth Amendment during her testimony before a House committee Wednesday.

Lerner is a key figure in the unfolding IRS scandal. She is in charge of the division overseeing nonprofit organizations, which includes directing the IRS to conduct a more intensive review of groups with the name “tea party” or “patriot.”

While curious about the IRS, Iowans were furious about gas prices.

In most parts of the Midwest, the price was over $4 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline.

The area I stayed is too rural to have stations registered with online websites that compare prices, so an informal developed as neighbors verbally compared stations with the cheapest and most expensive prices.

Refinery problems in the Midwest, they say, are to blame for the increase which will continue through Memorial Day.

I paid $4.27 a gallon to fill up my rental car. It’s good to be home in Seattle.


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