Iowa : Safety by City
- Arnolds Park
- Cedar Falls
- Cedar Rapids
- Clear Lake
- Council Bluffs
- Des Moines
- Fort Dodge
- Fort Madison
- Iowa City
- Mason City
- North Liberty
- Pleasant Hill
- Polk City
- Sioux City
- Spirit Lake
- Storm Lake
- The Amana Colonies
- West Des Moines
Driving on the two-lane road of U.S. Highway 71 in northwestern Iowa, you’ll spot a landlocked lighthouse.
If curiosity beckons you to turn left, you’ll be in the small resort town of Storm Lake, Iowa.
The remains of a glacial lake truck nicely into the edge of the community here.
Just 11,000 people call this place home, and you can’t even really find it on Google Maps unless you zoom in really closely.
When you do see it, your eyes will widen with intrigue.
This is a city where the local newspaper was the center of a documentary on dying journalism in small towns.
It’s run by a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor who could easily work in a bigger city, but he’s happy where he is – thank you very much.
Whether you stay at King’s Pointe Resort, the Lighthouse Inn with themed rooms, or the Sail Inn motel, you’ll get a special slice of small-town lake life in the heart of Iowa agriculture.
The city gets its name from a storm that once rattled the waters, but the versions of the story vary.
From a pioneer who couldn’t think of a name until a wicked storm came through to a love story of two star-crossed lovers impeded by a storm, the storm part remains true.
Storm Lake is surprisingly diverse for any town in Iowa, much less one this small.
Just 36% are Caucasian, 39% are Hispanic/Latino, 17% are Asian, and 3.5% are African American.
Many of the minority workers are employees of the local meat packing plant.
Warnings & Dangers in Storm Lake
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall risk in Storm Lake, but it's easy to confuse that with no risk. There are still crimes here, and some violent ones at that (we'll dig into that a little later). Overall, the crime rates are lower than the national average and it's a friendly city with a lot of cool things to do.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
There are two taxi services in town and here's a travel tip - if you go to City Hall, you can get a $1 off coupon for a one-way ride that's in the city of Storm Lake. There are 4,000 coupons available each year. You can also rent a car, but you should do that in the airport city of your choosing as you won't find a rental car company here. There's low risk with any option.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk of being pickpocketed in this small town with lots of space to move around, but you should be careful when leaving items on the beach when you go in the water or when dining at a restaurant. Don't just leave your purse on the back of the chair, as it's too easy for someone to snatch it while you're dining at the cultural cuisine of Storm Lake.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
It's called Storm Lake. Enough said, right? Ok, I'll elaborate. There are going to be warm weather issues of flooding, severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, heavy rain, and lightning. Temperatures can get extreme in the summer and winter. Winter can bring snow and ice storms. There won't be snow on the ground all winter long, but they can get some pretty big snow storms here occasionally.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There's low risk with just one robbery reported in 2021. Petty theft is much more likely.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
No risk at all since it's a small town that even I could barely find on the map. It's far enough away from a major metropolitan area that there wouldn't even be a ripple effect impacting this community. Weather is by far the biggest risk here.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk of a tourist getting scammed here. The typical scams reported are phone and email phishing attempts.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women are going to enjoy the tranquil setting of Storm Lake and the fun adventures that await. They can do so at low risk. There were two sexual assaults in 2021, but in 2020 there were eight sexual assaults. It's a reminder that women should always take personal safety steps, no matter how small the town is.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows no violations of the EPA requirements and confirms the water is safe to drink. The city has also entered an agreement to assist farmers with better environmental action to prevent dangerous runoff into the water that is treated locally.
Safest Places to Visit in Storm Lake
Whether you stay at King’s Pointe Resort or not, you can still enjoy the water park throughout the year.
There’s an outdoor water park for the summer and an indoor water park for the winter or during severe weather.
The only time it’s closed is for three weeks in November when maintenance is done.
Buena Vista University is a beautiful college campus to stroll through near the lake’s edge.
There’s a fascinating story of a building called “Old Main” that caught on fire here in the 1950s.
Students worked tirelessly to save all the books and artifacts from the building while it was ablaze.
You can learn all about that and more at the Buena Vista County Historical Museum.
You can also get maps of some of the historical sites and markers in the county, including a log schoolhouse.
There are several campgrounds and two marinas on Storm Lake, which spans more than 3,000 acres.
Parks are scattered across the north, west, and east edges of the lake.
Chautauqua Park is the largest in Storm Lake and is home to veterans’ monuments and an anchor from a Navy fighter ship.
Sunset Park includes a Heritage Tree Museum.
The museum is actually outdoors and is more like walking through the woods with unique varieties of trees connected to famous names from history.
For example, you can see a tree grown from the seed of Bunker Hill.
Be sure to check the plaques along the way so you know what’s unique about each tree.
There’s also a pamphlet you can download online to check off all the trees you visit.
Be sure to visit the Sugar Bowl Gift Shop to get some souvenirs of your time in Storm Lake.
During the holiday season, don’t miss Santa’s Castle which is picture-worthy from the outside and inside you’ll see Santa’s Iowa home with all the elves and decorations.
Chain saw wooden sculptures are located throughout the city.
There’s a local chainsaw artist who makes these amazing displays for the community.
Storm Lake United is the organization behind the sculpture displays and placement, so call them to get a full list of locations.
They don’t offer a map online.
That phone number is (712)732-3780.
Places to Avoid in Storm Lake
There are no bad neighborhoods here or parts of town you have to avoid for safety.
Most of the property crime that happens here is in the central part of the city and lakefront.
The few violent crimes there are here seem to happen throughout the more rural parts of town, suggesting those are mostly domestic crimes.
The places to avoid are more for the respect of the people who live there.
The southern edge of the lake is mostly lakefront homes that are private property.
This can be confusing because maps show a place called “Casino Beach” there.
Rest assured, there is no casino or beach where Google Maps shows this located.
There is a public boat ramp in that area.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Storm Lake
- If you speak Spanish here, it’s going to be helpful with a large number of Hispanic/Latino people here. This is one of the most diverse communities in Iowa. At least half of the homes speak a language other than English.
- 95 people were stopped for impaired driving in Storm Lake. That’s one out of every 118 people in the city. Part of the reason the city offers the $1 discounts on the taxi service is to encourage people to avoid driving while under the influence.
- Drug crimes are rising across Iowa, and even Storm Lake has a drug crime storm brewing. Drug crimes were up 40% in 2021 compared to 2020. If you see anything suspicious that might be drug-related, don’t hesitate to act. Call the police at (712) 732-8010 to let them know.
- Anglers need a fishing license here from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). You need to make sure you get a non-resident license. Some of the best walleye you can find in Iowa is in Storm Lake, so don’t miss out.
- If you want to go ice fishing, you might want to start at Little Storm Lake (it’s just right across the road from Storm Lake) as the ice there will be thicker. If you are unsure how to ice fish and test the thickness, the DNR workers are happy to help you out. The Storm Lake Police Department does have a dive team if someone falls in the water.
- If you lock your keys in the vehicle accidentally, the police will come to help you out. There were 571 calls for keys locked in the car in 2021.
- The city website has a “Notify Me” section for updates on city events, restrictions, and snow emergencies. This should not substitute for a good weather app to get notifications on weather emergencies. Use the Alert Iowa app for that.
- If there is a thunderstorm, get out of and away from the water from the first clap of thunder until 30 minutes after the last thunder is heard. Go inside and just relax as the storm passes. If the storm is severe, you should seek shelter in a safe place away from windows.
- For winter visitors, make sure you have a car with four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The city won’t plow the roads unless there are more than three inches of snow. When more than three inches fall, don’t park on city streets until the snowplows go through.
- For those boating or swimming at the lake, you should know a couple of key points. There is a dredge pipe and pump visible on the lake and it’s marked with orange cones and warning signs. Do not boat within 100 feet away from any dredging equipment. Ideally, you’ll stay 500 feet away. This dredging helps the water quality at the lake, but there is still testing done by the city. Unfortunately, any results that come back could be up to two days old. When swimming in the lake, never drink the water. Shower immediately afterward to remove any potential contaminants. You swim at your own risk here. There are no lifeguards or security.
So... How Safe Is Storm Lake Really?
There are about two crimes a day in Storm Lake, according to 2021 data provided by the police department.
The crimes reported to the FBI are now broken down into three categories:
- Crimes Against Persons: Homicide, sexual assaults, aggravated assaults, etc.
- Crimes Against Property: Theft, robbery, arson, vandalism, fraud, etc.
- Crimes Against Society: Drug crimes, gambling, pornography, etc.
The city had a total of 686 offenses in these three categories.
232 were Crimes Against Persons, 269 were Crimes Against People, and 186 were Crimes Against Society.
The crime categories with the largest incidents were:
- Simple Assault: 133
- Drug Violations: 104 (169 if you include drug equipment violations)
- Larceny/Theft: 100
The city hasn’t had a homicide since 2014.
The most violent crime in recent memory was a man accused of attacking his significant other with a meat cleaver.
If I have overwhelmed you with crime data, I can tell you it’s a safe town to visit, but some crime rates might seem high for a small town.
However, all of the rates are under the national average.
I’d have some different safety tips if you were looking to move to Storm Lake.
For a trip though, I can honestly tell you this – I live three hours from Storm Lake and I’ve never been there.
After researching it, I’m tempted to jump in my car with my golden retrievers and enjoy a week at a quiet lake in the middle of Iowa cornfields.
How Does Storm Lake Compare?
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- Visas - You'll need to plan ahead for a U.S. Visa. First, there's paperwork to complete. Then an in-person interview. You also need to provide a list of all your social media accounts from the past five years, even if you don't use them anymore. Once you have your Visa, you're only going to need it at the airport. Once you get through Customs, you can travel freely throughout Iowa.
- Currency - The U.S. Dollar is the only currency you can use in this area. You should have some cash on hand in case you come across a cash-only vendor. Just be sure to tuck it out of sight safely when walking around.
- Weather - There are great variations in weather during the different seasons. Fall and spring can be cold one day and warm the next, so plan to dress in easy-to-peel-off layers. Winter will get cold, and that's not going to stop outdoor activities from happening, so dress in a thick coat with all the warm accessories. Snow boots would be a good idea, but there's not always snow on the ground here. Summers will be hot and humid. A lot of people get caught off guard by Midwestern humidity. Bring bug spray too, as there are more mosquitos than people in this small town.
- Airports - Sioux City is the closest city to a commercial airport. That's about 90 minutes away. Des Moines is two and a half hours southeast of Storm Lake. You can also drive two and a half hours northwest to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance on your flight and rental car is a great idea due to the variations of extreme weather that can happen here.
Storm Lake Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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