2008-06-04 Grand Island and points east, Nebraska Tornado

This was the first of two days of white-knuckle chases. Drove to York then Ayr, took these pictures below at the intersection of NE-74 and US-281. Towers starting to go up, and interesting bases already…

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Look at those blues! Tornado warnings from these, south of Kearney and I didn’t want to go that far.

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They were looking a little thinnish and at this time a TOR was issued for just west of Grand Island, so I blasted north, gas in Hastings and ‘borrowing’ internet from a Super 8 🙂

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Between Hastings and Grand Island. Still TOR warned:

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East side of Grand Island, TOR warned but I wasn’t seeing it. I was seeing a massive hail dump coming my way, and I chickened out and started bailing east. I was planning on finding a good road south to I-80, since it was clear that I was on the wrong side of this storm and I needed to get on the south end. More on that in a second…

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Between Grand Island and Central City on US-30, still TOR-Warned but I kept losing contrast in the rain and occasional hail.

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Close-up.

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UP and BNSF have a practice of stopping their trains when a TOR is issued for the county their trains are in. The tracks alongside US-30 were a parking lot, and I’m not sure it’s a good idea, sitting duck v. moving target!

After this, for about three hours and the remainder of the daylight, I was in a struggle to keep in front of the storm. Relentless…

Heading northeast on US-30, turned south at Central City, my first attempt to get to the south side–the textbook favorable area for tornadoes–and immediately getting golfball hail. So much for that. East on NE-92, tried to go south again at US-81 and still golfball, AND a Spotter-Verified Tornado to my south, nowcasting to head toward me. And I couldn’t see a thing! Had to stop in Osceola, and the storm intensified and got on top of me.

Flash flooding in Osceola, and on the east side of town the inflow got cooking. Windbreak trees on the north side of the road were being shredded and sucked south, a constant rain of leaves and occasional branches, entire trees landing on the shoulder. More flooded low spots than I could count, and thankfully there was too much going on for law enforcement to close the highway or I would have been cored by the hail. As it was, I was in constant marble-sized–and larger–for those three hours! (Not to mention 40-60 MPH inflow, AND those confirmed tornadoes to my south heading northeast!)

One more time, at NE-15, to go south, but by now the warnings were indicating the tornado was right here and I didn’t dare turn. (As it turned out, there were two confirmed tornadoes about ten miles to my south.) Two things happened about now–the storms behind me took less of a tornadic characteristic, turning into what was termed a ‘land hurricane’, but storms were popping in front of this and they were tornadic, including around Omaha and south, where my family was! I could either keep heading east to Omaha, where who knows what awaited me, or say to hell with it, turn south and deal with the huge previously-tornadic and still nothing-to-mess-with storm. (I don’t feel too bad about not getting south, no video and only a couple of stills were taken of the tornadoes!)

At US-77, I was running out of open area to my east, beginning the western suburbs of Omaha, and restricting my options. I had to head south here and see what I got myself into, crabbed southeast on familiar county roads to Ashland. While the hail had stopped, the wind was still sucking into the storm off to my right, lightning all over the place, and close. I stole glances off to the west, and it was impressive, but too dark for photos and too dangerous besides.

(My family was in Omaha, they found a bank parking garage–which was soon blocked in by people from the neighboring apartment complexes parking their cars!)

(One of my co-workers, on her first storm chase, bagged at least one tornado in southwest Iowa…!)

I found a gas station canopy in Gretna and waited out the storm passage. I got home, to check out the damage to my place (flooded basement) when my wife called and told me about being blocked in. I said ‘so what’ until she mentioned she had the dog with her (?) So for puppy’s sake I drove into Omaha to switch cars, and of course by the time I got there the garage was empty!

So back home, couple hours of sleep, more fun on the 5th…

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Author: Damon Hynes

Used to chase tornadoes, until Ma Nature ran out of them...

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