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Strong offshore winds in southern California will keep Fire Weather threats Critical-to-Extreme into mid-week. A strong cold front from the Southern Plains to the Great Lakes is slowly moving eastward. A broad area of snow will continue from the Rockies into the Middle Mississippi Valley. Heavy rain and some severe storms with brief tornadoes will shift to the eastern Carolinas late tonight. Read More >

 

The May 22nd, 2004 

Tornado Outbreak

 

          May 22, 2004 was one of the worst severe weather outbreaks that affected south central and eastern Nebraska during the afternoon and evening hours.  In south central Nebraska, no less than 17 different tornadoes rolled across the area, and the devastating Hallam, NE tornado also occurred in eastern Nebraska on this day.  The tornadoes in south central Nebraska damaged dozens of homes and a few were completely destroyed.  In addition, over 250 center irrigation pivots were affected and hundreds of power poles were snapped, resulting in many miles of downed electrical line.  Large hail and strong straight line winds (up to 80 mph) also wreaked havoc on the region.  In the end, property damage of over 17 million dollars, and about 5 million dollars in crop damage was reported. In todays numbers, the total damage across south central Nebraska totaled nearly 30 million dollars.

  

Moderate to High Risk for Severe Weather was Forecast

          With a warm front sitting across south central Nebraska on the morning of May 22nd, 2004 and very unstable atmospheric conditions in place, much of south central Nebraska was placed under a moderate risk for severe weather by the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Norman, Oklahoma at 7 AM CDT. As conditions ripened, a High Risk for severe weather was advertised for portions of the local area later that day. See the images below for  the probabilities of severe weather issued by SPC as the event was developing.

Storm Prediction Center (SPC) Outlooks for the evening of May 22nd, 2004 (click on images to enlarge)

SPC Categorical Outlook for the evening and overnight hours of May 22nd, 2004.

SPC Categorical Outlook for Severe weather to the left

SPC Probalistic Outlook for Tornados to the right

SPC Probablistic Tornado Graphic for the evening and overnight hours of May 22nd, 2004.
SPC Probablistic Hail Graphic for the evening and overnight hours of May 22nd, 2004.

SPC Probablistic Outlook for Large Hail to the left

SPC Probablistic Outlook for Damaging Wind to the right

SPC Probablistic Damaging Wind Graphic for the evening and overnight hours of May 22nd, 2004.

    

          Contributing to the high probabilities for severe weather was the atmospheric set up on May 22nd, 2004. The 7 AM EST surface map below shows a dry line across western Kansas, a stationary warm frontal boundary draped across south central Nebraska, and a cold front to the west which was expected to charge eastward later that day. In the upper levels of the atmosphere, the 500 mb analysis below (also valid at 7 AM EST) depicts a large trough of low pressure across the intermountain west, with a low diving southward across the pacific Northwest, and an upper level perturbation near the four corners region.

 

Morning Surface and Upper Air Analysis Maps   (click on images to enlarge)

Surface Analysis for May 22nd, 2004. 500 mb Analysis for May 22nd, 2004.

Surface Analysis from 7 AM EST May 22nd, 2004.

500 mb Analysis from 7 AM EST May 22nd, 2004

 

Synopsis for the Day

          During the early morning hours of May 22nd, 2004, an upper level trough across the intermountain west was positioned to shift eastward as an upper level low across the pacific Northwest was diving south.  At the same time, an upper level wave embedded in this trough was forecast to emerge into the plains during the afternoon hours. Ahead of this disturbance, a dry line was positioned across western Kansas with a cold front expected to blast across the region later in the day. With very good deep layer shear and instability across the region, this dryline was expected to be the focus of covection initiation later in the day, with the overall potential for severe weather on the high side - especially across portions of Nebraska where a moderate risk for severe weather had been forecast by the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Norman, Oklahoma at 7 am CDT. This risk was later upgraded to a high risk for severe weather as the event was unfolding.

 

 The Actual Forecast Discussions from that Day

 

Convective Outlook from SPC issued at 1135 AM CDT (click to enlarge)

Area Forecast Discussion issued by the NWS in Hastings, NE at 238 AM CDT (click to enlarge)

SPC Convective outlook issued at 1135 AM CDT May 22nd, 2004. Forecast Discusiion for May 22nd, 2004.

Mesoscale Discussion from SPC issued at 302 PM CDT (click to enlarge)

Mesoscale Discussion from SPC issued at 352 PM CDT (click to enlarge)

SPC Mesoscale Discussion issued at 302 PM CDT May 22nd, 2004. SPC Mesoscale Discussion issued at 352 PM CDT May 22nd, 2004.

 

 

The Developing Storms that Evening

         As expected, the storms initiated along the boundary of drier air to the west, and more moist air to the east. Thes storms then propagated along the warm frontal boundary to the north, tracking from west to east during the late afternoon and evening hours.

 

Radar loop from the afternoon and evening of May 22nd, 2014. Radar loop Image (Central CONUS) from 5:02 PM CDT Saturday May 22nd, 2004 (click on image to enlarge).


Tornado Video: May 22, 2004

          The tornado that was reported across Furnas County (near Beaver City) that afternoon was caught on video. This tornado was eventually rated an F1 on the Fujita scale.

(click on each image to view video) 

 

Video of tornado near Beaver City, NE.(Video courtesy of Roger Hill)

Video of tornado in Furnas County, NE.  (Video courtesy of Linda Kitchen and Kathy Velasquez) 

 

 

 

SPC Reports from May 22nd, 2004 as well as a Map of Tornado tracks (click on image to enlarge)

          While no less than 17 tornadoes were observed across south central Nebraska on May 22nd, 2004, the severe weather was not just limited to Nebraska (see map on left below). In addition to the 86 tornado reports across the country that day, there were hundreds of damaging wind and large hail reports (tornadoes are depicted in red, wind reports are depicted in blue, and large hail reports are depicted in green). The actual tornado tracks across the local area are depicted to the right below.

Severe Weather Reports from SPC for May 22nd, 2014.


View Larger Map

 

 The Result: At least 17 Tornadoes were reported across the local area

May 22nd, 2004

 

Damage Photos from May 22, 2004

 

The F2s:

 Highlights of the "Belvidere/Bruning Tornado":

  • 8 mile path from east of Belvidere to east of Bruning, NE. 
  • No injuries/fatalities.
  • Rated an F2 on the original Fujita Scale. Winds estimated between 113 mph and 157 mph.
  • The tornado struck six farmsteads, destroyed a house, machine shed and several center pivots.

 Highlights of the "Spring Ranch/Clay Center Tornado":

  • 20 mile path from northwest of Spring Ranch to southeast of Clay Center.  
  • No injuries/fatalities.
  • Rated an F2 on the original Fujita Scale. Winds estimated between 113 mph and 157 mph.
  • The tornado hit approximately 15 residences, derailed 38 rail cars, as well as damaged or destroyed over 100 center pivots.

The F1s:

 Highlights of the "Bruning/Ohiowa Tornado":

  • 3.5 mile path from east of Bruning to Ohiowa, NE. 
  • No injuries/fatalities.
  • Rated an F1 on the original Fujita Scale. Winds estimated between 74 mph and 112 mph.
  • The tornado struck one farmstead and dislodged the house from its foundation, and damaged several outbuildings.

 Highlights of the "Beaver City/Hollinger Tornado":

  • 3 mile path from Beaver City to Hollinger, NE. 
  • No injuries/fatalities.
  • Rated an F1 on the original Fujita Scale. Winds estimated between 74 mph and 112 mph.
  • The tornado traveled three miles in southeast Furnas County and was witnessed by many people.  One farmstead sustained damage to several outbuildings but the house did not have significant damage.  Farther down the road, a tractor and a six row planter were overturned on top of a car.

 Highlights of the "Ayr/Pauline Tornado":

  • 7 mile path from Ayr to Pauline, NE. 
  • No injuries/fatalities.
  • Rated an F1 on the original Fujita Scale. Winds estimated between 74 mph and 112 mph.
  • The tornado mainly damaged center pivot systems on its seven mile path.

 
Highlights of the "Fairfield Tornado":

  • 0.2 mile path just west of Fairfield, NE. 
  • No injuries/fatalities.
  • Rated an F1 on the original Fujita Scale. Winds estimated between 74 mph and 112 mph.
  • The brief tornado was observed by volunteer firemen and storm chasers.  The storm chaser's wind equipment recorded a wind gust just over 105 mph.

Highlights of the "Ohiowa Tornado":

  • 2 mile path near Ohiowa
  • No injuries/fatalities.
  • Rated an F1 on the original Fujita Scale. Winds estimated between 74 mph and 112 mph.
  • A pair of tornadoes were reported just northeast of the old Bruning Airfield.  The first tornado (Bruning/Ohiowa listed above) traveled north and struck one farmstead and dislodged the house from its foundation.  The owner of the property withstood the first tornado, only to see the second tornado pass just southeast of his house.  The second tornado hit another farmstead just to the east and damaged several outbuildings.

 Highlights of the "Byron/Deshler Tornado":

  • 10 mile path from near Byron, to just south of Deshler. 
  • No injuries/fatalities.
  • Rated an F1 on the original Fujita Scale. Winds estimated between 74 mph and 112 mph.
  • Fortunately, this tornado remained in primarily unpopulated areas.

Additional tornadoes (the F0s):

There were nine additional F0 tornadoes which occurred across south central Nebraska:

  • A brief tornado was reported south of Beaver City, NE which damaged about a dozen power poles. 
  • Southwest of Franklin, NE a tornado damaged a mobile home and upset several irrigation systems.
  • A brief tornado was reported north of Orleans, NE.
  • A storm chaser reported a brief tornado near Alma, NE.
  • Near Campbell, NE, a tornado snapped a few power poles.
  • Near Bladen, NE, a tornado destroyed a machine shed and damaged trees.
  • A storm chaser reported a brief tornado northwest of Hebron, NE
  • A tornado touched down east of Benedict, NE and snapped power poles, and damaged a machine shed.
  • A small tornado occured in the Chester/Hebron areas.  Damage occurred to trees, power poles and center pivot irrigation systems.

 

 

Local Newspaper Articles

Hebron Journal Register Byron News from the Harlan County Journal.

Hebron Journal Register

Harlan County Journal

News from the Cambridge Clarion. News from Kearney Hub.

 Cambridge Clarion

 Kearney Hub

 

 

 

Local Newspaper Articles

Clay County News. Clay County News. Clay County News.

 Clay County News

 Clay County News

 Clay County News

Clay County News Clay County News Clay County News.

Clay County News

Clay County News

Omaha World Herald Photo

 

Acknowledgements

The National Weather Service in Hastings would like to thank all those who contributed to this article. The newspaper clippings are from local office archives provided to the NWS by a clipping service.

 

 

This page was composed by the staff at the National Weather Service in Hastings, Nebraska.