The October megastorm that stunned northwest Nebraska with a deadly blizzard and Wayne, Neb., with a harrowing tornado led the weather headlines in 2013.
A single system delivered both blows and dropped flooding rains in south-central Nebraska. It was the worst storm of a relatively quiet year, and President Barack Obama authorized federal aid to help the state.
Other major weather stories included a second year of drought, the surge of Colorado floodwaters down the Platte River, mass cattle deaths on a stagnant July afternoon and record May snows.
The following are some of the year's major weather stories:
» October blizzard. Trees had just begun to change color in early October when a freak blizzard swept along the Nebraska-South Dakota border. The storm started with record rains Oct. 3, followed by record snow ending Oct. 5. The area received 1 to 2 inches of rain and up to 2 feet of snow. Three people died on Nebraska roads.
The ground turned to gumbo, preventing Nebraska and South Dakota ranchers from rescuing their livestock. Across thousands of miles, cattle drowned, suffocated or died of exposure. A life's work for some ranchers was lost in a few days because breeding stock died. In Nebraska, livestock losses exceeded 3,000; in South Dakota, 20,000.
Three months later, ranchers remain “a long ways from recovering,” said Melody Benjamin of the Nebraska Cattlemen. “But they're able to get their minds wrapped around it.”
» Wayne tornado. A rare October EF4 tornado caused more than $50 million in damage when it swept through Wayne's industrial corridor and airport on Oct. 4. The more-than-a-mile-wide tornado was on the ground for 19 miles and reached a wind strength of 170 mph. It was among about a dozen tornadoes in Nebraska and Iowa.
John Dunning, a Wayne State College official, was critically injured, and 14 others were hurt. The tenor of the recovery was set after residents realized no one had died, City Administrator Lowell Johnson said.
“Right away it became, 'Let's clean up this mess,' ” Johnson said. “There really wasn't a pause.”
The tornado dealt another blow in mid-December, when Wayne employer Pacific Coast Feather announced that it would not rebuild. About 130 lost jobs.
» Iowa's wettest spring on record. The state received almost double the average precipitation from March through May. Aquifers, streams, farm ponds and soils depleted by the 2012 drought were replenished. So much rain fell that farmers were late planting, and some were unable to plant at all. Across the state, the drought designation was lifted.
» Second year of drought. The historic drought that began in 2012 continued into 2013. Conditions weren't as bad, though, for several reasons. The rainy spring in Iowa and eastern Nebraska briefly ended the drought there and provided a cushion of soil moisture when drought returned in the summer. Cooler-than-normal weather across the region eased the demand for water, lessening the impact of the drought.
As with 2012, summer was astonishingly dry. Omaha had its second driest July on record; only 0.44 inches of rain fell. The driest had occurred the year before, when only 0.01 inches of rain were measured. Nebraska had its 12th wettest fall on record. By year's end, about 53 percent of Iowa and 48 percent of Nebraska remained in drought.
» Deadly heat. On the afternoon of July 9, the wind died down in east-central Nebraska, and the 90-plus-degree air stagnated. Despite the best efforts of workers at feedlots, more than 3,000 cattle died.
» Platte River flooding. The historic rains that washed away mountain roads and towns in Colorado surged down the South Platte River, entering Nebraska on Sept. 19. Nebraska towns along the river barricaded their communities, roads and railroads against the floodwater. For the most part, their work held, and nominal damage occurred.
» May snow. A rare spring snowstorm in eastern Nebraska set a record for total May snowfall in Omaha, Lincoln and other communities. Omaha received 3.1 inches of snow May 1 and 2 in that city's first May snow since 1967. For Lincoln, it was only the third May in 114 years that snow fell.
» Triple-digit heat. Less than two weeks after the May snowstorm, eastern Nebraska saw its earliest triple-digit temperature ever. On May 14, the temperature reached 100 in Lincoln, 101 in Omaha and 103 in Norfolk. It would be the only day of the year in Omaha and Lincoln that the temperature reached triple digits.
» Lack of wildfires. At the start of the year, firefighters were braced for a second bad year of drought-induced wildfires. Nebraska's hottest, driest year on record in 2012 had brought record wildfires, so a repeat seemed likely given that the drought continued. Instead, the fewest fires in years occurred. According to the Nebraska Forest Service, about 400 fires occurred in 2013, down from more than 1,600 in 2012. About 10,000 acres burned, down from 511,000 the year before.
» One town, two storms. The little town of Edgar, Neb., population 500, is off the beaten track, Mayor Brad Brennfoerder said. On Memorial Day, a rash of tornadoes missed every town in the region but Edgar. The town lost its grain elevator, and more than 30 homes were damaged. Then, on Aug. 1, straight-line winds estimated at 80 mph hit the neighborhood unaffected by the tornado. The storm mangled trees and power lines.
Which is worse, straight-line winds or a tornado? “Probably equally bad,” Brennfoerder said.
Sources: Mike Moritz, Barbara Mayes, Cynthia Fay, Melissa Smith/National Weather Service; Ken Dewey, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Harry Hillaker, Iowa Bureau of Climatology.
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