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Putting Friday's tornado outbreak in historical context

A look at the history of strong/violent tornadoes in the Omaha metro
Posted at 3:20 PM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-01 16:20:01-04

Last Friday, multiple strong tornadoes (a strong tornado is defined as an EF-2 tornado or stronger) tore across the Omaha metro. As of May 1, five EF-3 tornadoes have been confirmed in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. So, where does this outbreak land in the history of tornadoes over Nebraska and Iowa? Find out below.

Despite popular belief, tornadoes in the Omaha metro are somewhat uncommon. The last time Douglas County saw a tornado was on April 27, 2016, when several weak tornadoes developed in west Omaha.

It is even more rare for strong tornadoes to develop in the Omaha metro. The last EF-2 tornado to occur in Douglas County was on June 8, 2008, when an EF-2 tornado moved from the north side of Gretna into Millard during the morning hours. For more information on this tornado, you can check out the This Week in Weather History article here.

EF-2 TORNADOES.PNG
EF-2 tornadoes in the Omaha metro since 2008.

More recently, an EF-2 tornado hit the south side of Bellevue on June 16, 2017. In Pottawattamie County, two EF-2 tornadoes occurred on December 15, 2021, when one tornado hit Weston and another hit Neola.

OMAHA'S LAST F-3: AUGUST 18, 1968

If EF-2s are rare, EF-3s are almost unheard of in the Omaha area. Since 1950, Douglas County has only seen one F-3 tornado back on August 18, 1968. On that day, an F-3 tornado tore through the Bel Air neighborhood near 120th and Center. 50 homes were damaged, as was the Bel Air Shopping Plaza. Thankfully, no one was killed or injured in the tornado.

Omaha 1968.jpg
Homes were damaged in the Bel-Air tornado of August 1968. This was Omaha's last F-3 tornado until the April 26, 2024 tornadoes.

The 1968 tornado is overshadowed by the stronger F-4 tornado that razed Omaha on May 6, 1975. This tornado began near Ralston and ripped up 72nd Street.

In Pottawattamie County, there has also only been one F-3 tornado since 1950. This F-3 tornado struck Council Bluffs on July 15, 1988. You can read more about that tornado here.

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A map of every F-3 tornado that has been documented in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. These do NOT include the EF-3 tornadoes from last Friday.

MINDEN HAS BEEN HIT ONCE BEFORE

One of the biggest tornadoes of last Friday hit the town of Minden in Pottawattamie County. However, this was not the first time the community was hit. On June 26, 1976, an F-4 tornado struck the west side of Minden.

That afternoon, a weaker tornado moved through southwest Omaha. 35 homes and 18 businesses suffered relatively minor damage. Despite the weaker nature of the tornado, 23 people were injured in southwest Omaha by the tornado.

That same storm moved into Pottawattamie County, dropping a violent tornado east of Neola and tearing into Minden. The tornado slashed directly through town, damaging 80 homes and businesses, along with 2 churches. When the tornado hit, most residents were in the town park for the annual carnival. Many fled into the nearby dance home, which suffered extensive damage. 6 people were injured in Minden, but no one was killed.

MARCH 23, 1913: AN ANALOGY

The largest tornado outbreak in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa came on March 23, 1913, easter Sunday. This was the day when a violent tornado tore through the heart of Omaha, killing over 100 and smashing many homes to pieces. Other major tornadoes swept through eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, making it the standard of all other outbreaks to be judged.

2024 AND 1913 COMPARED.PNG
The tornado outbreaks of 2024 (orange tracks) overlaid with the Easter Sunday tornado outbreak of 1913 (red tracks).

Although the 2024 outbreak is much different in intensity from its tornadoes, there are some curious similarities to the location of the tornadoes from 1913 and 2024. Both outbreaks had tornadoes near Waverly, in western Douglas County, and Pottawattamie/Shelby Counties.