Tornado spotted in southern Nebraska. This is a life-threatening situation. Take shelter now.
Welcome to Nebraska, the Land of Frequent Tornadoes
Nebraska welcomed us with the greenest grassfields, tornado warnings (twice), and the most beautiful sunset.
We barely crossed the border between Colorado and Nebraska, but the difference was apparent. Small hills receded, opening the arena to endless green fields dotted with yellow wildflowers. A narrow, unending road intersected this vast area.
A few sporadic herds of cows grazing on the fields along the road were the only living creatures that shared the green grassland with us on that long summer evening. Until Nebraska decided to spice up our relaxing drive with a tornado warning…
Thunderstorms with dramatic lightning followed us to the state from Colorado. Not spoiled by this striking natural display, we – typical Southern California residents – looked at these tree-like flashes up in the sky in awe. I was glad they were still far away from us. But pre-thunder darkness slowly enveloped the entire area. It was obvious that another round of thunderstorms would catch us any time soon.
Somehow that beautiful madness passed us by and headed south as we continued driving farther north.
With the sky clearing up and the slow midwestern evening unveiling its simple beauty, I let myself wonder. The movie Twister came to my mind. Nebraska’s open fields looked like a possible shooting location for a motion picture about tornadoes, one of the most dangerous natural disasters.
A loud emergency alert on my phone interrupted my wondering. In bold letters, the message announced that a tornado had been detected in rural Nebraska we were passing through.
Tornadoes in Nebraska
Tornadoes are common in Nebraska. The sixteenth largest state in the USA, the Cornhusker State experiences roughly 50 tornadoes a year, closely following such states as Oklahoma, Florida, and Kansas. The latter astounds, or it’s more appropriate to say frightens, with nearly 100 tornadoes yearly.
If you ever travel across Nebraska, you can’t help but notice how relatively flat the state is, with grasslands stretching as far as the eye can see. These fields form just a small part of the Great Plains or simply the Plains.
The Plains is a large area that covers more than one million square miles across 12 states, including Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, Texas, and Wyoming. The exact territory of the Great Plains, however, is a debating topic.
Yet there is not a question raised about the Great Plains being a central point of the tornado activity. The Plains sit right in the heart of Tornado Alley, an area in the central United States and Canada with the highest number of tornadoes.
Tornadoes can form at any time of the year. Spring and summer months with their heat and humidity, however, create the most favorable conditions for the twisters. In Nebraska, May and June are the richest-in-tornado months, amassing nearly 20 tornadoes each.
Barely Escaped Tornado in Nebraska. Twice…
We entered Nebraska in late June and almost immediately were hit with the tornado warning. Part of me had always wanted to see this disturbing natural phenomenon. Swirling air columns that roamed across open areas, powerful and frightening, becoming bigger with every twist, were such an intriguing and distant reality.
Ironically once I was almost given an opportunity to see a real tornado in person in the Great Plains of Nebraska, I didn’t want it. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, my only wish was to be as far as possible from the twister.
We missed the tornado (or the tornado missed us) that day by what it looked like 10 minutes. The area that we passed through just a few minutes before was getting darker and darker with every minute. Oblivious to the summer tornado activity in Nebraska, we expected a heavy thunderstorm there and rushed to drive farther north, away from whatever was about to hit that region.
Immediately after that unsettling emergency alert, we tuned in to a local radio station. The tornado warning was in place until 8:00 p.m. Although my eyes saw that we were safe. My mind couldn’t stop saying that we needed to drive faster. This fright continued until a radio host announced that the tornado warning in Nebraska was lifted.
The state didn’t throw at us any other frightening surprises that day. Instead, it bestowed on us the most beautiful sunset we’ve ever seen.
Second Tornado Warning in Nebraska
We left the Cornhusker State the following day, ready to embark on long-anticipated adventures in South Dakota. Two days later, we came back…
As fate would have it, another tornado warning was soon in place in Nebraska. At least this time we were in a small town where our chances of finding a shelter were higher. I still wasn’t ready to see any tornadoes no matter how small or big they were.