Severe Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Winter Storms and Floods were just a sample of some of the significant weather events which impacted Western and North Central Nebraska during the past year. The following are the 5 most significant weather events from 2010 as determined by the staff at the National Weather Service Office in North Platte.
Record Snowfall for the 2009/2010 Winter Season
The winter of 2009 to 2010 was characterized by not only drastic differences in snowfall amounts across Western and North Central Nebraska, but also near record breaking snowfall in the North Platte area. The snow season started early in parts of the panhandle and southwest Nebraska, with three significant snowstorms in the month of October 2009. By the time Halloween had arrived, North Platte had already recorded 30.3 inches of snow, though only 2 inches had fallen in Valentine. Much of the heaviest snowfall for the month fell in the interstate 80 corridor from Brady to Ogallala.

While the month of November 2009 saw much less snowfall recorded in the North Platte area, December saw over a foot of snow recorded by the end of the month. The trend of heavier snowfall continued to occur in the southwest portion of the state into the first part of 2010 as well, as the weather pattern countinued favorable for significant snow storm development over this part of the state. By the time the snow season was over in April 2010, North Platte had recorded 60.9 inches of snowfall. Making the 2009-2010 season the second snowiest winter of all time with records going back into the late 19th century. In addition, Valentine recorded only 18.6 inches of snow for the season which was significantly below average there. In contrast, the 2010 to 2011 snow season has started much slower. The first major snow storm arrived December 30, with North Platte finally receiving more than 1 inch of snow while Valentine recorded more than 2 inches of snow for the season.
2009-2010 Total Snowfall for Western and North Central Nebraska
A Pair of Tornadoes Hit Northeastern Cherry and Keya Paha County on the Night of May 22, 2010
Thunderstorms developed along a stationary front which extended from northern South Dakota into northern Nebraska.  These storms quickly became severe producing large hail and two tornadoes just after sunset.  The first tornado touched down a mile west of the village of Sparks at around 8:50 PM CDT.  The tornado tracked to the east southeast for approximately 1 mile, impacting the southern edge of Sparks.  The tornado hit a rodeo arena where it destroyed a concession stand and grandstand, and scattered debris along a 200 yard path. The tornado was rated an EF0 with estimated winds of 65 to 85 MPH.  Total damage from the tornado was estimated at 42000 dollars.

A second tornado touched down 9 miles east northeast of Norden at 9:30 PM CDT.  This tornado moved 9.3 miles to the northeast before lifting approximately 10 miles northwest of Burton at 9:50 PM CDT.  Along its path, the tornado hit two farmsteads.  At the first farmstead, the tornado did extensive damage to a calving shed and destroyed a stock trailer. Extensive tree and fence damage occurred and a roof was torn off of a hog shed at this location.  Numerous rural electric poles and a windmill were destroyed as the tornado tracked to the northeast.  The tornado then hit a second farmstead, where a 40 by 60 foot quonset building was destroyed.  This tornado was rated an EF2 with estimated wind speeds of 111 to 135 MPH.  Total damage from this tornado was estimated at 120 thousand dollars.
Tornado Damage
Ericson Dam Failure June 13th
After a wet spring then two days of heavy rain upstream of Ericson Lake, with reports in excess of 6 inches, Ericson Dam in Wheeler County failed Sunday evening, June 13th, Water levels at Ericson Lake reached its capacity of 360 acre feet, and water flowed into the emergency spillway.  Erosion started along the spillway before 8:00 PM CDT, and the spillway breached at 9:04 PM, causing water to drain from the lake into the Cedar River.  Flooding along the Cedar River commenced, and at 9:45 PM CDT, the flood waters reached the Wheeler and Greeley County line, and 6 inches of water flowed over the Highway 281 bridge.
Ericson Dam in Wheeler County, water from the Cedar River runs freely in this photo.
Heavy Rainfall in June Results in Flash Flooding and River Flooding during the Month of June
Several days of heavy rainfall during the first couple of weeks in June caused rapid river rises.  The North Loup River near Taylor reached its highest flow in 73 years of records.  The Elkhorn River near Ewing reached its highest stage and flow in 62 years of records.  The graph below shows a rapid increase in flow beginning in early June, reaching a peak flow of 25,400 cubic feet per second.  This also corresponds to a historic record stage of 13.13 feet on June 14th.  Flooding from the Elkhorn and Loup River systems caused significant damage to property and infrastructure.  Along the Elkhorn River near Ewing, a community effort of sandbagging and building a large dike saved much of the town from widespread flooding.  In Holt County alone, nearly 30 bridges were washed out, along with numerous roads.
Elkhorn River Flow over the Past Year
A portion of Taylor Bridge crossing the North Loup River was washed out along U.S. Highway 183. (Photo courtesy of the Nebraska State Patrol)
Lake McConaughy Fills to its Highest Level in over a Decade
Above normal snow pack in the Snowy Range of Wyoming, coupled with a wet spring in eastern Wyoming and the Nebraska Panhandle, led to above normal inflows to Lake McConaughy this year.  Lake levels rose nearly 20 feet from 3040 feet above sea level at the beginning of 2010 to a peak of 3060 feet reached in September.  Current lake levels as of the end of December were approximately 3055 feet above sea level or approximately 85 percent of capacity.  The last time Lake McConaughy was this high was in early 2000.  This began a gradual draw down in lake levels which bottomed out in 2004 and 2006 due to persistent drought across western Nebraska and Wyoming.  During those periods, lake levels were approximately 3000 ft above sea level and reservoir capacity was approximately 25 percent of normal.
Lake McConaughy Height over the Past Year
Lake McConaughy Height over the Past 20 Years
Click on images to zoom

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by Matthew Masek, Chris Buttler,
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