Powerful tornadoes tear across Nebraska and Iowa as weather service warns of 'catastrophic' damage (2024)

Devastating tornadoes are tearing across parts of eastern Nebraska and Iowa on Friday as a multiday severe thunderstorm event ramped up in the central United States, injuring at least three people.

Storms began in parts of the Plains and South early Friday afternoon. The National Weather Service had received at least 42 reports of tornadoes as of 6:30 p.m. ET, in at least three states, including Texas, Nebraska and Iowa.

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In Nebraska, one storm chaser described a “very devastating situation” after a tornado barreled through the Omaha suburb of Elkhorn. “Some houses have been swept and no longer exist,” Thomas Hinterdorfer told CNN. “Most homes in this immediate area have suffered significant damage and it’s likely going to be a long clean up effort.”

Here's what we know so far:

• On Friday, a tornado roared through the outskirts of Lincoln, Neb., tearing the roofs off homes and crossing part of I-80 in the process. An overturned tractor-trailer, blown over by the storms, brought traffic to a slow crawl on the interstate, traffic cameras showed.

• In Elkhorn, an area on the edge of Omaha, first responders are still combing through the wreckage left behind by the tornado, searching through flattened homes for anyone trapped or injured, local authorities announced at a Friday news conference. The area is grappling with power outages, gas leaks, toppled trees, and unstable structures. Two people were transported for medical treatment with minor injuries. "We think injuries were so little because the warning systems in the City of Omaha and Douglas County were highly effective," Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said. "We were not hit with a sudden storm. People had warned of this, which saved lives, in our opinion."

• Shelby and Douglas County emergency management officials in Nebraska said they have received no reports of injuries from Friday’s storms. Alex Londo, Shelby County’s emergency coordinator said there has been substantial property damage. “First responders are out assessing the needs at this time,” Londo told CNN. And Leia Baez, communications director for Douglas County, said there were no serious injuries or fatalities from the tornadoes in Elkhorn, Bennington and Waterloo but many homes were severely damaged, displacing residents. An American Red Cross shelter has been opened in Elkhorn.

• Omaha’s Eppley Airfield, the largest airport serving the region, was brief closed Friday so officials could do a damage assessment, according to a post on X. The airport reopened around 6 p.m. local time after closing “due to storm activity”, according to Tim Schmitt, chief operations officer with Omaha Airport Authority. Some planes and hangars were damaged, he added.

• Multiple cars of a train derailed near Waverly, Neb., after it was struck by a tornado, according to a railway spokesperson. Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway personnel were at the site Friday working to clear the area.

• At least two tornadoes were observed in Texas Friday afternoon, one northeast of Waco. Video of the twister posted to social media showed it churning across a large field.

• Serious storms are expected to continue through Sunday, but Saturday might be the most dangerous day, when the threat will extend from Michigan to Texas, including Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Dallas, Milwaukee, Chicago and Austin. The storms may bring damaging wind gusts, hail up to the size of baseballs and strong tornadoes.

Tornado just crossed i-80 Northeast of Lincoln, Nebraska. pic.twitter.com/mOgknDcCvF

— Bryce Shelton (@BryceShelton01) April 26, 2024

The tornado threat will continue to increase through Friday evening.

It’s all part of classic springtime setup for severe weather. Moist air from the Gulf of Mexico is flowing into the central U.S. as heat builds in the region, priming the atmosphere for robust storms.

Some locations are facing a severe thunderstorm threat spanning two or three consecutive days.

Dallas; Kansas City, Missouri; Des Moines, Iowa; and Omaha, Nebraska, are just a few cities that could be hit by multiple rounds of severe thunderstorms through Sunday.

Friday: Plains, Mississippi Valley, Midwest

Destructive storms lit up radars and brought parts of eastern Nebraska to a standstill Friday afternoon. Tornado sirens blared as a line of supercell thunderstorms raked through the Lincoln and Omaha areas, some of which produced what appeared to be massive, damaging tornadoes.

Tornadoes continue to spawn Friday evening as storms track east into Iowa and northern Missouri. The National Weather Service issued a tornado emergency for a large tornado that was confirmed near Harlan, Iowa. Meteorologists noted it was a “particularly dangerous situation” in which “catastrophic damage” was likely.

A Level 3 of 5 risk of severe thunderstorms extends from parts of Iowa and Nebraska south into northeast Texas. Storm will track east into Iowa and Missouri through the evening and into the overnight.

Damaging wind gusts, hail up to the size of baseballs and strong tornadoes – at least EF2-strength – are possible with any storm in the Level 3 of 5 risk area.

“Several factors appear to be supportive of a significant tornado event today,” the prediction centre warned Friday morning. The tornado risk will continue to increase into the evening hours.

Heavy rainfall with rates up to two inches per hour could cause flooding in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri.

Parts of Missouri were deluged with rain on Thursday, prompting flash flood warnings in the Springfield area, where more than half a month’s worth of rain fell. Additional heavy rainfall Friday could allow floodwaters to rise faster and pose an even greater hazard.

Powerful tornadoes tear across Nebraska and Iowa as weather service warns of 'catastrophic' damage (1)A forecast model shows one way thunderstorms could develop by Friday morning. (CNN Weather via CNN Newsource)

Saturday: Potential to be the most dangerous day

Saturday could be the most dangerous day of the four if certain atmospheric conditions align. The potential strength of storms hinges on how Friday night’s storms evolve and linger into Saturday morning.

“A complex but potentially significant severe weather episode is expected on Saturday,” the prediction centre cautioned Friday.

If storms hang around in the morning hours, the atmosphere will not be able to fully recharge to unload widespread, dangerous storms. Damaging storms are still likely in this scenario, they could just fail to reach their peak potential strength.

But if storms quickly clear out Saturday morning, there won’t be much of a limit on how strong storms could become.

The most significant storms are possible starting in the afternoon in parts of the southern and central Plains, where a Level 3 of 5 risk of severe thunderstorms is in place. Widespread damaging wind gusts, hail up to the size of baseballs and strong tornadoes are the storms’ main hazards.

The tornado threat could ramp up considerably through the late afternoon and evening hours with “multiple strong tornadoes” possible, according to the prediction centre.

Damaging storms are possible outside of the greatest risk area in a huge area of the country from the Great Lakes to southern Texas.

A “significant rainfall event” could unfold Saturday, the Weather Prediction Center warned. Some locations could record close to five inches of rain in a short period and dangerous flash flooding could result. A handful of locations caught under multiple rounds of gushing rainfall could have totals approach the eight-inch mark.

A Level 3 of 4 risk of excessive rainfall is in place for a large portion of Oklahoma – including Oklahoma City and Tulsa – and smaller parts of Kansas and Texas. Intense rainfall could force streams to overflow their banks and flood roadways.

Sunday: Plains, Mississippi Valley, Midwest

Damaging storms are possible from Texas to Wisconsin Sunday. But the exact timing, extent and strength of these storms will depend heavily on how Saturday night’s storms behave.

If the atmosphere is able to recharge following morning storminess, new severe thunderstorms will start to bubble up in the afternoon. Areas from northeastern Texas to southern Iowa and western Illinois face the greatest chance for damaging storms.

The storms could unload damaging wind gusts and large hail, but an isolated tornado or two is also possible.

Some storms, especially in the southern portion of the risk area, could remain severe as they push east Sunday night.

Heavy, flooding rainfall is possible, especially in parts of the Lower Mississippi Valley.

By Monday, severe weather is forecast to become much more isolated. Any developing storms may be confined to the Gulf Coast.

CNN Meteorologist Robert Shackelford contributed to this report

Powerful tornadoes tear across Nebraska and Iowa as weather service warns of 'catastrophic' damage (2024)


What was the deadliest tornado in Nebraska history? ›

The Omaha Tornado March 23, 1913 - 101 Dead

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.

Where did the tornado hit in Nebraska? ›

In Lancaster County, Nebraska, a tornado was blamed for a train derailment and a semitruck rollover, according to National Weather Service notes on Friday's vortexes. Omaha Police Lt. Neal Bonacci said hundreds of homes were damaged, most of them in the Elkhorn area in the western part of the city.

Which state has the most tornadoes? ›

Texas leads the nation for the average number each year only because of its size. Surprisingly, when looking at how many tornadoes occur per fixed area then Florida leads followed by Kansas, and again surprisingly, Maryland.

When did the last tornado hit Omaha? ›

OMAHA, Neb. —

May 6 marks 49 years since a tornado ripped through the heart of Omaha. In 1975, the twister cut a nine-mile path from Ralston down 72nd Street. Using modern-day storm classifications, it would be rated an EF4. The tornado killed three people and injured more than 130 others.

What is the biggest tornado in US history? ›

The Tri-State Tornado is the deadliest and longest-lasting tornado on record in the United States. In its record three-and-a-half-hour spree across Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois, the tornado killed nearly 700 people, destroyed 15,000 homes, and obliterated town after town.

What is the deadliest tornado in US history? ›

1. Tri-State Tornado: Missouri, Illinois, Indiana (1925) On March 18, 1925, the deadliest tornado in U.S. history, the Tri-State Tornado of 1925, tore a 219-mile-long path across Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

What county in Nebraska has the most tornadoes? ›

Hall County has the highest density of tornado activity in Nebraska, with 121 tornadoes per 1,000 square miles (2,600 km2), about 4 times the state average.

Is Nebraska still in Tornado Alley? ›

As a colloquial term there are no definitively set boundaries of Tornado Alley, but the area common to most definitions extends from Texas, through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, North Dakota, Montana, Ohio, and eastern portions of Colorado ...

Has a tornado ever hit Omaha? ›

In 1913, a tornado crashed through Midtown Omaha on Easter Sunday. Around 100 people were killed and several hundred were injured. On May 6th, 1975, a tornado ripped through the center of Omaha once again. It killed three people and injured over 100.

What state has never had a tornado? ›

Tornadoes have been documented in every U.S. state (not including the non-state territories of Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico) at least once since 1950, although some regions and states are hit by tornadoes far more than others.

What state does not get tornadoes? ›

What states don't have tornadoes? Alaska, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C. rarely see tornadoes — they averaged zero tornadoes annually over the last 25 years, according to our analysis of NOAA data.

Has Nebraska ever had an F5 tornado? ›

As a matter of fact, the F5 tornado that trekked nearly 70 miles from eastern Adams County to northwestern Butler County is THE LAST F5/EF5 TORNADO RECORDED WITHIN NEBRASKA (there has not been one rated this strong since).

Does Nebraska get snow? ›

An average winter season lasts from November through March in eastern Nebraska and from October through April in western Nebraska. In a typical winter, average seasonal snowfall ranges from 20 to 40 inches, with the heaviest amounts over the northern Nebraska panhandle.

Does Omaha get a lot of snow? ›

It's said that Omaha gets about 30-inches of snow per year, slightly more than the national average. It is not common for the temperature to drop below -1, although you will probably experience low temperatures in the teens during some of the coldest months of the year.

How many people died in 1975 Omaha tornado? ›

It briefly touched down near 132nd and Harrison streets before gaining steam near 96th and Q streets. The path of Omaha's 1975 tornado that killed three people, and left hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

Has there ever been an F6? ›

After viewing the aerial photos of the storm damage in Xenia, Fujita officially rated the tornado as an F6. This was the second and last time that a tornado was rated as an F6. The other F6 tornado occurred in Lubbock, Texas in 1970.

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