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Amazing Nebraska Weather

Ladybug in hailstone

Record High 118 July 24, 1936 Minden, NE
Record Low  -47 Feb. 12, 1899 Camp Clarke, NE

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THE OMAHA TORNADO March 23, 1913   101 Dead

This was the darkest day in Nebraska severe weather history. A family of at least seven tornadoes moved across Nebraska and Iowa. The Omaha tornado was the deadliest. It started in Sarpy County, ripping its way northeast through Ralston, where seven people died. The twister then cut a quarter-mile wide path across Omaha and killed 94 people with 600 homes destroyed and over 1,100 others damaged in this tornado. Two children were killed Southeast of Beebeetown in Harrison County, Iowa.

1913 Omaha Easter Tornado Picture Page


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The storm of May 31/June 1 was unique for two reasons: first, it dumped an incredible amount of rain - where the Arickaree and Republican rivers meet in Colorado, 20 inches of rain was recorded, and 24 inches in 24 hours was recorded along the South Fork Republican River. The entire upper Republican watershed witnessed an average rainfall of nine inches. This storm was also unique in that it moved in the same direction as the drainage basin. As a result, the Frenchman, Red Willow, Medicine, Deer, Muddy, and Turkey creeks all reached their flood peaks at the same time as the crest passed on the Republican River.

According to witness accounts, the roar of the water could be heard coming down the Republican Valley five miles away. At one point, the water rose six feet in thirty minutes and was ten to fifteen feet higher than the previous record crest. Another account states that the Republican rose 10 feet in 12 minutes in McCook; naturally, anything in the path of that wall of water would be destroyed. Water was twenty feet deep in some places, and the discharge was an incredible 280,000 cubic feet/second - more than 320 times the normal flow today. Water was "bluff-to-bluff" in areas where the bluffs are typically at least two miles apart. The town of Haigler was spared because it is situated on higher ground, but places like Parks, Benkleman, Max, Stratton, Trenton, Culbertson, and McCook were severely impacted if not outright destroyed. In addition to these towns, deaths also took place in Perry, Arapahoe, Orleans, Oxford, Franklin, Alma, and Cambridge. Some victims were last seen screaming for assistance from the roof of their home as it was being swept down the river.

Due to the fact that deaths occurred in three states and that reporting back in 1935 was not very efficient, the number of deaths attributed to flooding differs. An accurate estimate would be 113 killed - most reports just say "over one-hundred" dead. A reported 11,400 head of cattle and 41,500 were killed by the high water, and one report stated that carcasses littered roads as to make them impassable. In total, 341 miles of highway and 307 bridges were destroyed, and 74,500 acres of farmland were inundated. The damage estimate of $26 million is almost certainly low - personal losses, bridges, agricultural, and railroad losses were all incredibly heavy. $26 million is equivalent to nearly $800 million today.


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BLIZZARD OF 1883 (near Nysted)

On Easter Sunday, April 13, 1883, with no warning at all, raging winds rolled in swiftly.  The temperatures started to drop rapidly.  Then the sky turned dark and the clouds started dumping snow at an alarming rate never before seen by the newly settled pioneers.  So much snow came down in such a short period of time  (many feet in a matter of a day or two).  You literally could not see three feet in front of you.  The temperatures dropped so fast and froze many things very quickly. 

People were running out of fuel in their houses to keep them warm.  After all, it was spring.  Many ventured out into the blizzard to find more firewood, most of which was stacked next to the house or barn.  Many people became lost in the fierce, piercing winds and swirling snow.  The winds and snow where constantly changing direction, confusing many people who ventured out into it.  The snow and winds didn't let up for two days.
Once the snow finally stopped, search parties were now sent out to find the missing.  Nearly everyone lost in the  blizzard was later found, dead and frozen stiff.  Many of the people were just a short distance from shelter, but they could not see a thing.  People who survived this blizzard would be much wiser when The School Children's Blizzard hit in 1888.

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The morning of January 12, 1888 was warm and the sun was shining in most parts of the State. Early in the afternoon the wind suddenly changed to the northwest with a roar. As it wasimpossible to see in the blinding snow, many persons lost their way and perished. Great heroismwas displayed by many a teacher in saving the children.


John Ratterman of Columbus, who taught a rural school in Cedar County, tells how he led thirty-five pupils between the ages of ten and eighteen to safety. Calling the boys and girls together, Mr. Ratterman informed them of the dangerous situation. Some of the boys tried to leave the school for home, but the teacher succeeded in persuadingthem to remain with the group. He formed a hand-to-hand chain of the pupils with the older boysin the lead and himself at the end. The group left the building and started south of the school. The boys failed to lead due south as instructed and the chain arrived at the southeast corner of theschool grounds. They were forced to turn directly west facing the blizzard. With great difficultythey managed to reach their destination just as two girls dropped exhausted in the snow. Mr. and Mrs. Ratterman kept the fires burning all night to keep the children warm. Next morning only the tops of the fence posts were visible through the drifts, yet the parents, who had spent a restless night, arrived early and were grateful and happy to find their children safe in the teacher's home.


One of the most remarkable escapes was due to the ingenuity of a sixteen-year-old farm hand, Devoice, whose given name is unknown. While the storm was raging furiously, Devoice, who was employed by J. C. Malloy of Saunders County, started with a sled and team of mules for the school house after the children. He placed the six Malloy children and a daughter of M. K. Dixon in the sled, and had proceeded some distance towards home when the mules became blinded by the storm and refused to go any farther against it. The driver unhitched the mules and left them to find their own way home. Then he turned over the sled box and placed the children under it, covered them with robes, and prepared to await the recession of the storms. When he ventured out the next morning, he found that one of the mules had refused to go home and was frozen to death.


One of the most touching tragedies of the blizzard was the death of the two Westphalen girls, ages eight and thirteen. Although advised by their teacher to go home with her, the older girl, Ida, insisted that they should go to their mother who was a widow living a mile north across the fields from the school. They lost their way and wandered around in circles. After three day's search, their frozen bodies were found a few feet from one another about two miles east of their home.

The noble self-sacrifice of the thirteen-year-old girl in caring for her younger sister was a case of remarkable heroism. She took her heavy wraps and put them around the younger one and doubtless helped her along until they both became completely exhausted and slumped down in the snow.


Miss Ettie Shattuck, who taught school four miles southeast of Emmet, met with an experience during the storm which reads like a tale of fiction.

After wandering aimlessly around in the storm for some time seeking shelter, she stumbled against a haystack. With her hands she dug a hole in the stack and crawled into it, pulling hay into the hole after her. The snow drifted over the spot and partially protected her from the cold. She sang hymns until she fell asleep.

When Miss Shattuck tried to get out the next morning, she found that the snow had frozen so hard that she could not budge it. She lay helpless and hungry all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The neighborhood turned out in search of her, but on Sunday night they gave up andreturned to their homes.

The farmer, into whose stack Miss Shattuck had burrowed, needed some feed after the storm, and drove to this particular stack among several on his farm. While scooping away the snow, he noticed that the hay had been disturbed and that there was a funnel-shaped hole through the snow. Reaching his hand down into the hole, he felt an overshoed foot. Though hungry and weak from her 78 hours of imprisonment, Miss Shattuck was able to respond when he called, "Ettie, is that you?"

Miss Shattuck's legs were so badly frozen that it was necessary to amputate them. She died from the effects of the operation in February.


Another Nebraska teacher, Miss Royce, had an experience similar to Miss Shattuck's. When the blizzard struck, she formed a chain of children and started for home. She found no house, but finally bumped into a haystack. With her hands she dug a tunnel in the hay, crammed the children into it, and sat at the opening herself. The next day frantic parents found her there, unable to speak. The children were all safe, though some were frostbitten. Miss Royce underwent several operations to remove frozen parts from her hands and feet. Eventually, she died from the effects of the operations and exposure.


The element of coincidence in the dramatic story of the 1888 blizzard as told my Mrs. John Rudder of Cortland is amazing. Mrs. Rudder, who was a little girl at the time, attended a rural school near Pickrell. Her home was nearly a mile northwest of the school. The teacher dismissed the children as soon as the storm struck. The child and her two little friends lost their way as they tried to face the fury of the storm. They came to a drift so deep that they could not go through it, and while they stood, not knowing what to do, a neighbor who had started to school after his children came up. He too was lost. Fortunately there was a haystack nearby in which they took refuge.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Rudder's father, who was caring for his stock when the blizzard struck, started to the school with more wraps for the children. He reached the school in safety, but became confused when he was forced to face the storm on the way home. By some strange coincidence, his wanderings brought him to the same haystack that sheltered his children.

An older brother was in Pickrell three miles west of home when the storm broke. He rode his pony toward the school where he thought the teacher would keep the children. On his way he was joined by a neighbor who was riding a work horse. When the two found the school empty, they started for home. In the deep snow the brother's pony rode out from under him. Fearing that his companion would ride over him, the boy called out. The father recognized his son's voice and yelled to him. Mrs. Rudder said, "Brother and neighbor came to us, making seven in all. We huddled together, trying to keep warm. Because we knew it would be the end for anyone who went to sleep, mybrother and I sang songs and talked all night. I think it was God's will that we should be saved orwe surely would have perished."

All were badly frozen, especially Mrs. Rudder's father and one of the other men, but the nextmorning each member of the party was able to find his way home. All recovered from the effectsof the exposure.


Joe Holt, who was a fifteen-year-old boy at the time of the 1888 blizzard recalls how he andseveral companions spent the night in the school house on Logan Creek about one mile northwestof Laurel, Nebraska. Mr. Holt says: "The weather was so warm in the morning that I came to school too poorly clad toface the storm. When the storm struck about three o'clock in the afternoon, I realized that wemust have plenty of coal in for the night. Being the oldest boy in the school, I took the lead andwe succeeded in getting sufficient coal from the shed which was about ten rods north of theschool house. About the time the coal was in, Mr. L. C. Tolles came for his children. He wantedto take us all home with him but we were afraid to go, so he left us. About an hour later hereturned with our suppers. I shall never forget how kind and strong he was. He came on a sorrelmule and carried a three-tine fork with the handle cut off short. When he left, he warned us notto leave the building. All night we kept the fire burning. We had no light--just opened the stovedoor for light. By eight o'clock the next morning we could see quite well and soon my fathercame for us. He greeted us with, 'I never expected to see you boys alive again.'"

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One dead, five injured as tornadoes, huge hail and foot of rain strike Nebraska

The Associated Press, June 23, 2003

DESHLER, Neb. Up to a foot of rain and at least seven tornadoes pounded in southern Nebraska, killing one person and destroying ''quite a few'' homes.

Residents of one town reported hail that look ''like someone dropping volleyballs down.''

Four tornadoes struck in and around Deshler starting at 6:40 p.m. Sunday, said Todd Holsten of the National Weather Service in Hastings.

''They've got the town all blocked off,'' said Gordon Fleming, a Thayer County commissioner who lives in the town of around 900. ''It blew some buildings away here.''

One person was killed and five were injured in Deshler, about 75 miles southwest of Lincoln near the Kansas line, said Malisa Sittler, personnel director at Thayer County Health Services in Hebron. It was Nebraska's first tornado death since 1988.

''There's a lot of damage from trees just landing on cars and homes. It's unbelievable,'' said Bob Reinke of Reinke Manufacturing, a maker of irrigation equipment and flatbed trucks. He the storm destroyed one building at the factory and the town's lumber yard.

''We're just trying to figure out what's out there,'' said Margie Holle, whose husband, Alan Holle, is Deshler's mayor. ''I've been in the basement all night.''

Gov. Mike Johanns planned to tour the Deshler area Monday, said spokesman Chris Peterson. Because of a threat of more severe weather, he chose to drive rather than fly, Peterson said.

There were preliminary reports of up to 12 inches of rain in Hebron, about 10 miles east of Deshler. Radar indicated 6 to 13 inches of rain throughout Thayer County, said Jared Guyer of the weather service in Hastings. High water closed a highway just south of Hebron.

One resident of Aurora said hail punched a hole in his roof that was large enough for him to crawl through, said Dale Obermeier, a weather service spotter in Aurora, who said the hail also dug holes in his yard.

''When it came down it looked just like someone dropping volleyballs down,'' Obermeier said.

The weather service planned to investigate the hail reports, Guyer said.

''That would be record-setting hail size,'' he said. ''We plan to check that out before we call the Guinness (Book of Records) folks.''

The name of the person killed in Deshler was not immediately released.
Elsewhere, the roof of a movie theater collapsed Sunday after about an inch of rain fell at Little Falls, Minn. Nobody was hurt.

About 20 people were watching ''The Hulk'' at the Falls Cinema when a section of roof gave way and the movie screen fell toward the audience.

''It was pretty unexpected, the extra special effects,'' said theater owner Peter Schoell.

Earlier, at least two tornados struck the Nebraska Panhandle on Friday, destroying farm buildings and trees and derailing railroad cars.

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