National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

June 3rd, 1980 - A World Class Outbreak


There are many aspects of the Grand Island Tornado Outbreak of June 3, 1980 that set it apart from other major historical tornado occurrences...some of which could possibly define it as one of the greatest recorded outbreaks in tornado history.  The storm on June 3rd was investigated and documented thoroughly by Dr. Roger M. Wakimoto…then a doctoral student at the University of Chicago…working under world-renowned tornado expert Dr. T. Theodore Fujita.  Many “world class” occurrences were noted in Dr. Wakimoto’s findings.  When looked at in TOTO…the occurrences on June 3rd are truly unique and remarkable in their own right.  

A “Tornado Outbreak”…is defined in the American Meteorological Society Glossary of Meteorology as “Multiple tornado occurrences associated with a particular synoptic-scale system.”  In recent years, it has been suggested that tornado outbreaks consist of ten or more tornadoes.  While the Grand Island event meets the original definition…it does fall short in the later added requirement.  Taking a closer look…the Grand Island Tornadoes are much better categorized as a “Tornado Family Outbreak”…loosely defined as “a series of tornadoes which occur along a similar path and usually from the same “parent” supercell” thunderstorm…sharing characteristics of the long track Tri-State Tornado that tracked more than 219 miles from southeast Missouri into southwest Indiana on March 18, 1925.

In the case of the Grand Island Tornadoes…the following highlights are recognized as unique and possibly unequaled in history. 

  • The number of intense tornadoes in one outbreak over such a small area and in such a short period of time.
  • The number of anti-cyclonic rotating tornadoes in one outbreak which is extremely rare.


…Number of Tornadoes…Areal Extent and Path Length…

Dr. Wakimoto’s research verified seven tornadoes the evening of June 3rd.   Of the seven verified…Tornado #7 was an “outlier”…well outside the Grand Island city limits.  The remaining six occurred within the city limits although Tornado #1 was predominantly outside of the city.   A rough estimate shows that Tornadoes #1 - #6… when considering path width and length… could be easily placed within a 25 square mile grid inside the Grand Island city limits.  Tornadoes #1 - #6 shared a total path length of approximately 31.3 miles while #1 - #7 stretched 44.7 miles…over a total area of less than 39 square miles.  When considering an average path width of a quarter mile for Tornadoes #1 - #6…actual path damage extended over an area of just under 8 square miles…in a city with a population density of 1000-1200 people per square mile.

…Fujita Scale Intensity/Time Window/Odd Rotation of Tornadoes…

Of the seven tornadoes…there was 1 –F4…2 - F-3’s…1 – F2 and 3 – F1’s.  This statistic alone borders on staggering when looking at…areal extent and the short amount of time they occurred for tornadoes of such magnitude.  The first tornado set down and 8:45 PM CDT and the last lifted at 11:30 PM CDT.  There was a 16 minute lull between Tornadoes #3 and #4…and a 10 minute lull between #6 and #7 with a total “tornado time” of 2 hours and 19 minutes.  The explosive development of the parent storm can be visualized in the visible satellite imagery photos separated by only 2 hours.  





(Visible Satellite Imagery at 2300 GMT - 6 PM CDT) and (0100 GMT - 8 PM CDT)



Tornadoes #1...#2 and #3 overlapped in time between 7 and 25 minutes…while #5 and #6 spun simultaneously for 3 minutes.  Tornadoes #4 and #7 occurred on their own time.    Tornadoes #2...#3 and #4 exhibited an anti-cyclonic rotation (clockwise)…a rarity in the northern hemisphere where 99 percent of all tornadoes spin cyclonically (counter-clockwise.)

All-in-all…the Family Tornado Outbreak of June 3, 1980 will not be matched for years to come…if at all…we hope.