National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Record Water and Flooding  
 plus more 2019 events

Each year has its share of extreme weather events and 2019 was no exception. The year will go down in the books as one of the worst on record for heavy rain and devastating flooding. The first of the catastrophic floods arrived in March and were followed by additional heavy rain events and significant flooding into the summer months. The severe weather season featured several tornadoes in the month of May, with the strongest rated an EF-2 in Osborne County, KS near Tipton just after Memorial Day. The latter months of the 2018-2019 winter season saw a prolonged period of cold temperatures, and blizzard conditions closed Interstate 80 on February 23rd. Later in the year, a couple of days before Thanksgiving, another winter storm system produced heavy snow and impacted travel as portions of the Interstate were shut down. 

The Hastings National Weather Service (NWS) office also had its share of local events and our office hosted an open house in April, with attendees arriving from
all over the state of Nebraska, as well as Kansas. In October, NWS Hastings Doppler radar (KUEX) underwent a major upgrade to replace the antenna pedestal.

Our highlighted events and yearly climate extremes are detailed below.


March 13-23: Catastrophic Flooding:  

The worst flooding in decades, and in some locations the worst flooding on record occurred from the middle to latter part of March 2019. Many factors contributed to the disastrous flooding in the Spring. February through March saw bitterly cold temperatures and snowy conditions. The ground was frozen to a depth of 25 inches and the snow pack was widespread and deep, especially in the Loup River basin where the snow depth ranged from 10-17 inches. The prolonged cold weather led to excessive ice formation on rivers and creeks.

Then, a potent storm system arrived, deepening across the Central Plains and producing widespread precipitation. The precipitation initially fell as rain for a couple of days, with some embedded thunderstorms. As the system progressed, a warm front lifted northward and allowed temperatures to surge into the 50s and 60s. Rain continued on the warm side of the system, but then changed to snow as Arctic air surged south on the cold side of the system. Intense winds accompanied the snow and combined to produce blizzard conditions before the system departed. The rain and warm,  above freezing temperatures resulted in rapid snow melt, and due the frozen ground, the rain and snow melt was converted to runoff and created widespread flooding. 

The most significant and damaging flooding occurred north of the Platte River and included the Wood River, the entire Loup River system and the Cedar River. The rivers overflowed, lowland areas were inundated by floodwaters and looked like lakes. As increasing flows on area rivers broke up the ice in the rivers, ice jams occurred and large slabs of ice were deposited and piled up onto bridges and roadways.  

Widespread flash flooding occurred, requiring evacuations and water rescues. Water covered hundreds of gravel and paved roads, including state and federal highways, making them impassable. Dozens of bridges were washed out, primarily on county roads, but bridges on paved roads were also affected. Thousands of homes and businesses were damaged and flooding was extensive in Dannebrog, Pleasanton, Gibbon, Wood River and Alda. The flooding also impacted trains and the Union Pacific railroad tracks between Gibbon and Columbus were shut down for several days.

Numerous rivers saw record crests and the impacts of the flooding was tremendous. As flood waters receded, pasture land and fields next to rivers were covered in inches of sand and silt. The flooding occurred in the middle of calving season and hundreds of calves perished, were stranded, or livestock carcasses floated away in the floodwaters.

Disaster declarations were declared and preliminary estimates of damage were expected to exceed $1 billion.

Wood River (photo by Erin Collins)


Hwy 14 near Fullerton (photo by NE State Patrol)


Hwy 39 bridge south of Genoa (photo State of NE)

July 8-9th: Extreme Flooding (again)

Excessive rainfall due to training of thunderstorms (multiple rounds of storms) produced copious amounts of rainfall on July 8th and 9th, and was focused across Buffalo, Dawson, Gosper, Furnas, Harlan and Phelps counties. Some of the highest rainfall totals included: 10.65" southwest of Odessa, 8.88" in Loomis, 8.33" near Hildreth, 7.66" in Riverdale, 7.60" near Lexington, 7.41" north of Funk and 7.15" southwest of Ravenna. In addition, the city of Kearney measured 4-7" (highest on the west side of town). 

The extreme rainfall resulted in flash flooding and caused significant damage, and numerous gravel county roads were inundated by flood waters and were impassible. Almost 40 vehicles were stranded in Kearney streets and basements were flooded in some homes due to egress windows breaking. Water rapidly rose on the south side of the city, inundating numerous hotels, restaurants and businesses. At least 200 people had to be evacuated from hotels using construction grade front-end loaders. At its peak, water was 2-4 feet high inside the hotels, and 4-5 feet high in the parking lots. The student union was flooded on the University of Nebraska-Kearney campus and two to three feet of water was reported in the lower level of the food court. Approximately 400 Kearney homes were damaged by the flood, and many more beyond city limits. A power substation flooded and resulted in power outages to about 450 customers.

In Lexington, cars were stalled in flood waters and 23 people were evacuated from an apartment building due to flooding. The city of Lexington issued a disaster declaration due to the disruption of utility services. Streets and homes were flooded with sewers backing up into homes. In Odessa, water was 4 feet deep on Webb street. A little further south, the Odessa Interstate 80 exit was closed because of the flooding. Water was about three feet deep at the truck stop adjacent to the Interstate and flooded vehicles had to be towed. In the town of Elm Creek, many roads and basements flooded.

Flooding was also extensive along the Wood River. Moderate flooding occurred at Riverdale with water covering the bridge just north of town. Further to the north, flooding forced the closure of state highway 10 between Pleasanton and Hazard. In Gibbon, water flooded streets and basements for the second time this year. The northeast side of town was impacted the worst with at least 30 homes and several businesses inundated by floodwater. People had to sandbag their homes and businesses. It is believed that flooding on the Wood River was wider with this event than the March one, due to changes in the riverbed from this prior flooding. Amtrak trains that travel between Chicago and Emeryville, CA were halted in Lincoln and McCook due to the flooding. 

Odessa, NE (photo by Erika Pritchard


Kearney, NE (photo by NE State Patrol


May Tornadoes: May 17th and May 26-28

May 17th: A long-tracked supercell thunderstorm tracked northeast through portions of western Dawson County, producing three confirmed tornadoes and large hail of 2 inches in diameter. Two of the tornadoes were rated EF-1 and one tornado was rated EF-0. Two of the tornadoes narrowly missed the communities of Farnam and Cozad. 

May 26-28: The days surrounding (and including) Memorial Day 2019 will be remembered as a particularly stormy and wet period, featuring multiple rounds of rain and severe weather. Sunday (May 26) saw widespread rain with embedded lines of thunderstorms. These storms primarily produced very heavy rainfall, and two brief tornadoes also developed, one during the evening near Upland, NE (Franklin County) and the second one near Tipton, KS (Mitchell County) in the early morning on the 27th. The tornado near Upland was rated EF-1 and the tornado near Tipton, KS was rated EF-0. Both tornadoes caused damage to residences and outbuildings/garages.

On Memorial Day (May 27), thunderstorms redeveloped during the evening, producing more heavy rain and severe weather, including a brief tornado in Superior (Nuckolls County). This weak tornado, rated EF-0, destroyed a detached garage and damaged a nearby fence and trees.

The following day (Tuesday the 28th) featured intense supercell storm development along a sharp warm front in north central KS. One of these storms produced the most intense tornado of all three days when an EF-2 developed in extreme northern Russell County (near Waldo) before tracking northeast for 22 miles across rural portions of southeastern Osborne and southwestern Mitchell counties before lifting near Tipton. The tornado was witnessed by several storm chasers, county officials and local residents. It caused damage at primarily three farmsteads, destroying a grain bin and several outbuildings.

Near Farnam (photo by Braydon Morisseau


Near Farnam (photo by Braydon Morisseau


February 23: Blizzard Conditions

A powerful low pressure system passed through the Central Plains on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, bringing several hours of blizzard conditions. Prior to the onset of blizzard conditions, most places saw a period of freezing drizzle that kicked in as early as the evening of the 22nd, resulting in some slick roads before snow ever started. Snow first developed over north central Kansas then quickly spread northeast during the early afternoon.  North to northwest winds frequently gusted to 35 mph to over 40 mph and resulted in very poor visibility for several hours, along with considerable drifting of snow. Travel became treacherous on many local roadways, including Interstate 80, where several accidents occurred in Hamilton and York counties. At one point during the afternoon-evening, Interstate 80 was closed from Omaha to as far west as Lexington. Most areas southeast of roughly a York-Red Cloud-Stockton KS line saw the highest snowfall amounts of 6-10". 


I-80 near Aurora, NE (photo by NE State Patrol)

November 26: Heavy Snow and Strong Winds just before Thanksgiving

A winter storm system brought significant snowfall and travel impacts to a large portion of Nebraska and portions of northern Kansas the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Snow developed through the late morning from northwest Kansas up through central Nebraska. Throughout the winter weather event, a mix of sleet and freezing rain was observed at times on the southern edge of the main snow band. Warm ground temperatures caused some melting as snow fell, but most of central Nebraska still had slick and snow-covered roads by early afternoon. 

The heaviest band of snow developed and moved across the area roughly from mid afternoon through mid evening. Snow rates of 1" per hour were common, and rates were likely as high as 2" per hour at times. For example, the cooperative observer in Greeley, NE had around 5" of snow in roughly 4 hours between 3:30 and 7:30pm. Northwest winds also picked up quite a bit after 6 pm, and many locations saw 40-45 mph wind gusts, causing areas of blowing snow and low visibility.  As a result, Interstate 80 was closed in both directions from Kearney to York for several hours Tuesday evening. 

By the time snow exited the area around midnight, many locations had seen 6-10 inches. The heaviest totals were centered near a line from Cambridge to Holdrege to Grand Island to Fullerton, NE. Amounts decreased significantly to the south and east, though. Areas southeast of a line from Phillipsburg, KS to Smith Center, KS to Hebron, NE generally saw less than 1" of snow.  

The snowfall broke the daily records for November 26th at both Grand Island and Hastings. These new record totals were 8.2" and 7.1" respectively. 

North of Kearney (photo by Karyn Shoolts)


Office Events

April 27: NWS Hastings Open House

For the first time in 25 years, NWS Hastings hosted an open house on April 27th. Despite cold and windy conditions, around 500 people braved the weather and visited our office. Open house activities included a summary of our office's mission and responsibilities, and a tour of the operations area. There, attendees learned about various tools we use to monitor and forecast the weather, including: Doppler radar, GOES East satellite, automated observations and weather forecast models. They were also shown various electronic equipment necessary to keep the office running and data flowing. Outside the office, other staff members presented on how to accurately measure and report rain, snow and hail. Other visual displayed included our "tornado in a box", along with a flood plain model used to show water absorption, runoff and the importance of flood plain management.

NWS Hastings also partnered with other agencies who were on hand for this event, including: KSNB Local 4 TV meteorologists and their storm chase vehicle, Southern Public Power District, the Nebraska Mesonet, and local law enforcement and emergency management personnel. A Hastings Boy Scout troop provided a luncheon and refreshments.

NWS Hastings Operations Area
(photo Andrea Kelley)

October 21-October 31: NWS Hastings Radar (KUEX) Upgraded

On October 21st, the NWS Hastings Doppler radar (KUEX) located at Blue Hill, NE was shut down for a major refurbishment project to replace the antenna pedestal. This was part of a multi stage project known as SLEP (service life extension program), that is modernizing and refurbishing the NEXRAD fleet of radars.

The KUEX radar still had several original major components in the pedestal from its original installation in 1993. These included the bull gears and drive gearboxes for both the azimuth and elevation drives, which run 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. The refurbished pedestal includes all new replacement parts to ensure another 25 years of reliable service.

In order to replace the pedestal, the antenna dish, all external electronics equipment and waveguide had to be disassembled and removed from the tower. Once this was complete a crane was brought in and the radome was unbolted, removed and placed on the ground. This exposed the bare pedestal, which was then removed. A few components were swapped from the-old-to-the-new on the ground, before the new pedestal was hoisted back onto the tower.

In order for the radome removal and pedestal replacement to occur safely, weather conditions had to cooperate. Any wind over 18 mph was potentially too high and dangerous for the operation to proceed, especially if gustiness was occurring. When it was initially time to replace the radome, gusts exceeded 27 mph, so the replacement was delayed until the following evening when winds decreased ahead of an approaching front. Even with the slight delay in replacing the radome, the project was finished and final testing completed on October 31st, well-ahead of the projected return date of November 11th.       


Click image above to see the video
NWS Radar KUEX upgrade 
(provided by Jesse Wirtes)


KUEX Radome/Pedestal (photo by Julia Berg)


Climate - 2019 Weather Extremes
(Data from NWS Cooperative Observers and CoCoRaHS/NeRain observers)

Hottest Temperatures of 2019 (all occurred in July)

  • 108...Webster Dam KS  (July 19)
  • 105...Plainville 4WNW KS  (July 31)
  • 104...Kirwin Dam KS  (July 19)
  • 103...Smith Center KS  (July 19)
  • 102...Harlan County Lake  (July 19) - Beaver City  (July 18) - Red Cloud  (July 17) - Beloit KS  (July 20)

Coldest Temperatures of 2019 (most occurred in early-March)

  • -19...Red Cloud  (March 5)
  • -17...Canaday Steam Plant/6SSE Lexington  (March 4)
  • -15...Kearney airport  (March 4) - Ravenna  (March 5) - Genoa 2W  (March 4) - Oxford 6NNW  (March 5)
  • -14...Beaver City  (March 4) - Holdrege  (March 5) - Ord airport  (Feb. 25) 
  • -13...Cambridge  (March 4)

Highest 2019 ANNUAL Precipitation ("normal" annual precip generally ranges from 23-30")

  • 50.39"...Dannebrog 
  • 49.32"...Elyria 6W
  • 47.08"...Elba 8WNW
  • 46.25"...Doniphan 2W
  • 45.36"...St. Paul
  • 44.84"...Tobias 2WSW  (extreme east edge of Fillmore County)
  • 44.52"...Hubbell
  • 43.73"...Ravenna
  • 42.80"...Hebron
  • 42.09"...Superior

Highest Calendar-Month Precipitation 

  • 16.82"...Dannebrog  (August)
  • 16.76"...Doniphan 2W  (August)
  • 15.42"...Elba 8WNW  (August)
  • 14.92"...Elyria 6W  (August)
  • 13.83"...St. Paul  (August...53% of normal ANNUAL precipitation!)
  • 13.62"...Loomis (July)
  • 13.47"...Giltner 1NW  (August)
  • 12.73"...Grand Island 5SSW  (August)
  • 12.42"...Hildreth 6SW  (July)
  • 12.38"...Arapahoe 9NNE  (July)

Highest 24-hour Rain Totals (for a 7am-7am period...all reported on JULY 9)

  • 8.88"...Loomis
  • 8.33"...Hildreth 6SW
  • 7.66"...Riverdale
  • 7.60"...Lexington 6SW
  • 7.41"...Funk 12N
  • 7.15"...Ravenna 5SW
  • 6.68"...Bertrand 6SE
  • 6.50"...Cozad 4S
  • 6.12"...Hildreth 4SSE
  • 5.94"...Ravenna 

Highest Calendar-Month Snowfall

  • 17.5"...Hubbell  (February)
  • 17.4"...Gresham 3W  (February)
  • 17.3"...Hebron  (February)
  • 17.2"...York 3N  (February)
  • 17.2"...Webber KS 3ENE  (February)
  • 17.0"...Superior  (February)
  • 16.4"...Arcadia 2W  (March)
  • 16.3"...Ord (December)
  • 16.1"...Arcadia 2W (December)
  • 16.0"...Ord  (February)
  • 16.0"...Shelby 3NE  (February)

Highest Storm-Total Snowfall

  • 13.2"...Arcadia 2W  (Dec. 27-29)
  • 13.0"...North Loup   (Dec. 27-29)
  • 12.2"...Ord  (Dec. 27-29)
  • 11.1"...Kearney airport (Dec. 27-29)
  • 11.0"...Lexington 6SW  (Nov. 26)
  • 11.0"...Ravenna  (Dec. 28-29)
  • 10.2"...Loup City  (Nov. 26)
  • 10.0"...Loup City (Dec. 28-29)
  • 10.0"...Plainville KS 4WNW  (Feb. 23)
  • 10.0"...Scotia 4E  (Nov. 26)
  • 10.0"...Hunter KS 2NNW  (Feb. 23)

Nebraska Tri-Cities Extremes and Totals (Grand Island, Hastings, and Kearney airports)

  • Hottest temperature:            100...Grand Island  (June 29)
  • Coldest temperature:            -15...Kearney  (March 4)
  • Highest daily rain total:      5.04"...Kearney  (24-hour total ending 7am July 9)
  • Wettest calendar month:  11.94"...August in Grand Island  (wettest August on record and 45% of "normal" ANNUAL precipitation!)
  • Highest storm-total snow:    11.1"...Kearney  (Dec. 28-29)
  • Snowiest calendar month:  12.9"...February in Kearney
  • Annual 2019 Precipitation totals:     
    - Grand Island:   39.71"   (13.05" ABOVE normal...3rd-wettest year on record out of 125) 
    - Hastings:         35.20"   (8.09" ABOVE normal...9th-wettest year on record out of 126)
    - Kearney:          39.04"   (13.81" ABOVE normal...tied for 2nd-wettest year on record out of 126)

Please visit the following sites for a wealth of local climate information:
- NOWData....official temp/precip/snow data for any NWS observation site in our coverage area
- Daily/Monthly/Annual Precipitation Maps (maintained by NWS Hastings) 
- 24 to 72 hour Observed Snowfall Maps (maintained by NWS Hastings)
- NWS Hastings Local Climate Page (various additional weather/climate info, including detailed monthly stories) 
- High Plains Regional Climate Center (HPRCC)...information for the entire High Plains region (not just our coverage area)