20th Anniversary

of the

June 15, 1990 Tornado

Across Southwest Nebraska

 

On Friday, June 15, 1990 a tornado that was rated F4 on the Fujita Scale formed in Hitchcock County, Nebraska at 7 pm CDT and moved into Red Willow County before lifting at 7:45 pm CDT. A description of the Fujita Scale ranking can be found here. The following is a look back at what happened.

 

 View of the tornadic supercell as viewed from Colorado. Photo take by David Blanchard.

 

Meteorological Overview


Surface Data

The daily weather maps below show the evolution of the weather pattern at the surface. The maps are valid for 7 am CDT. On the morning of June 15th, a surface low pressure was located in extreme southwest Nebraska with a warm front extending across Dundy, Hitchcock, and Red Willow Counties and then east into northern Kansas. Click on the images to enlarge.

June 14, 1990 at 7 am CDT June 15, 1990 at 7 am CDT June 16, 1990 at 7 am CDT

 

Upper Air Data

The daily weather maps below show the evolution of the weather pattern at the 500 mb. The maps are valid for 7 am CDT. A trough of low pressure was located across the west coast with a deepening low across Hudson Bay.  Click on the images to enlarge.

June 14, 1990 at 7 am CDT June 15, 1990 at 7 am CDT June 16, 1990 at 7 am CDT

 

Below are the upper air soundings from the North Platte, Nebraska NWS office. Highlighted in yellow is the CAPE (or postive energy) and in blue is the CIN (or negative energy). On the right is the morning sounding and on the left is the evening sounding. Notice the increase of CAPE and decrease in CIN from the morning to evening. Any storms forming in this enviroment will easily become severe. Click on the images to enlarge. 

12 Z  on 15 June 1990 00Z on 16 June 1990

 

Radar Data

This event happened before the modernization of the National Weather Service's radar network. The radars in the area were the WSR-74C Doppler radars which were located in North Platte, NE and Goodland, KS. The modern WSR-88D radars would come to the region in the middle 90's. No archive of the radar data is available for this time period so we can only guess at what the radar echos looked like. A best guess comes from a model reanalysis which is shown in the images below. Based on satelite images and severe reports this is a good approximation of what the radar could have looked like. The model isn't perfect though and has the storm too far southeast by a county.

Below is the model 1 km reflectivity valid for 2300Z or 1 hour before the tornado. Click on the image to enlarge.

 

 

Below is a model composite reflectivity loop from 2100Z June 15th  to 0500Z June 16th.

 

Satellite Data

Below is a GOES-7 visible satellite image from 00Z which is at the start of the tornado. The supercell in southwest Nebraska has a large anvil spreading northeast and is the main storm in the area.

 

 

Model Data

No archive of the model data that was used by the forecasters is available. It is possible to take the raw surface and upper air data and recreate a model anaylsis. The images below show what the forecasters of the day might have seen if they had a 21Z model run. Upper level flow is from the southwest while the surface flow is from the southeast. This created a turning of the winds with height and is favorable for rotating thunderstorms, or supercells. There is a broad area of low pressure at the surface across the tri-state region. Dewpoints of 65 ºF or greater are in most of Nebraska and had been most of the day. There is a large area of instability as seen in the image of CAPE with over 3000 J/kg over Hitchcock County. Three hours into the forecast (time of tornado) the surface low pressure has deepened and is near the Kansas/Colorado/Nebraska borders. Click on images to enlarge.

250 mb Heights (dm) in contours and Winds (kts) as image.

Valid at 21Z on 15 June 1990

Surface Mean Sea Level Pressure (mb) contoured, Surface Dewpoints (F) as image and surface winds (kts)

Valid at 21Z on 15 June 1990

Surface based CAPE in contours (magnenta is greater that 3500 J/kg) with surface based CIN as image.

Valid at 21Z on 15 June 1990

   
 

Surface Mean Sea Level Pressure (mb) contoured, Surface Dewpoints (F) as image and surface winds (kts)

Valid at 00Z on 15 June 1990

 

 


Overview of the Tornado

Storm Reports

 Below is a map of the region with the storm reports for June 15, 1990 plotted. The red marks are the tornado reports, the green dots are large hail reports, and the blue dots are severe wind reports. Eleven tornados were reported on this day (one off the map) with the longest path being the tornado in Hitchcock and Red Willow Counties.

 

Below is a closer look at the approximate path of the F4 tornado. The tornado was over rural areas and did not hit any towns as this map suggests.  A funnel cloud from this thunderstorm was reported 2 miles northwest of Max, Nebraska. At 7 pm CDT the tornado started as a multi-vortex tornado (three separate tornadoes from the same cloud) that later merged near Macklin Bay on Swanson Lake (on the west end of the lake near the Highway 34 marker). The official path started on the northwest edge of Stratton, Nebraska, tracked for 28 miles, and had a width of 1 to 1.5 miles. The tornado tracked east-northeast at a speed of 25-30 mph. At 7:45 pm CDT the tornado lifted 5 miles northeast of McCook. One inch hail was also reported 4 miles north-northeast of McCook at 7:40 pm CDT.

 

Photos of the Tornado

Looking northwest from 2 miles east of Max. This was reported as a funnel at this time and is approximately 4 miles from the photographer. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Clyde Brown of Max, NE.

Looking northwest from 2 miles east of Max. This was reported as a funnel at this time and is 4 miles from the photographer. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Clyde Brown of Max, NE.

Looking south-southeast at 1.5 mile wide tornado near Stratton, NE. The tornado is 3.5 miles away. The photographer noted that it was very humid all day long, cloud base was very low and the whole storm was rotating. Photo courtesy of Ann Sutton of Stratton, NE.

Photo from same location as above looking east approximately 6 miles and several minutes after above photo. The sun is now shining giving the storm it's white appearance. Photo courtesy of Ann Sutton of Stratton, NE.

This photo on the cover of the Storm Data publication for June 1990. Looking west-southwest from a farm several miles West-northwest of Culbertson, NE. The tornado is about 9 miles away. The house on the farm where this photo was taken was later destroyed by the tornado. Photo courtesy of Calvin Brown of Eugene, OR.


Damage from the Tornado

 Hitchcock County

  • 35 rural house were damaged or destroyed in Hitchcock County along with numerous outbuildings, vehicles, trees, and power poles. Damage was estimated over $632,000.
  • Crop damage in Hitchcock county was estimated at $1,240,000 with $600,000 to wheat, $500,000 to corn, $115,000 to milo, and $25,000 to pasture land.
  • There was 1 injury in the county which was a shoulder injury of an elderly woman on a farm.
 

Red Willow County

  • 4 farm houses and outbuildings, 4 mobile homes, and major high voltage power lines were damaged or destroyed.

 

Other Facts

  • All communication in Hitchcock county was lost for about 4 hours and all highways into the county were closes to aid clean-up efforts.
  • The tornado picked up water from Swanson Lake as dried mud 1 to 2 inches thick caked the southwest sides of the buildings, trees, and poles that were left standing in central Hitchcock County.

 

 


 


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