On March 13, 1990, an early season outbreak of tornadoes ripped across the interior United States. A total of 59 tornado touchdowns impacted the states of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Of the 59 tornadoes, 44 of the tornadoes occurred in Nebraska and Kansas. The more well known tornadoes on the 13th include the Hesston, Kansas F5 tornado, and the Lawrence, Nebraska F4 tornado. A description of the Fujita Scale ranking can be found here. This summary focuses on the tornadoes across south central Nebraska and north central Kansas. The Lawrence, Nebraska tornadic complex tracked northeast for 124 miles, setting a record for the longest track tornado in the state of Nebraska.
The National Weather Service (NWS) in Hastings was fortunate to receive video footage of the tornadoes in the Grand Island and Lawrence areas. As seen in the pictures below and the video, the tornadoes were an ominous site as they wrought havoc across the Central Plains.
Video courtesy of Kris Stoltenburg
Location is the corner of Abbott and Engelman road northwest of Grand Island, looking southwest. The tornado passed 3/4 mile west of her location.
Video courtesy of Robert Schroeder
Location is 5.5 miles southwest of Lawrence, looking southwest. The tornado passed 1/2 mile east of the Schroeder residence.
Video courtesy of Harold Rehtus
Mr. Rehtus lived in eastern Webster county at the time of the tornado.
The maps below depict the location of the tornadoes across south central Nebraska and north central Kansas, and across the Plains region. The table shows the strength (ratings) of the tornadoes. As widespread as the outbreak of tornadoes was on the 13th, experiencing tornadoes in March is typically not a common occurrence. Historically speaking, in Nebraska, 57 tornadoes have been reported in March since 1950. Tornadoes have been reported during March in just 12 different years since 1950. The majority of those 57 tornadoes occurred in just three years: 16 tornadoes occurred in 2007, 15 in 1990, and 8 in 2009. Based on the data, since 1950, the average number of tornadoes in March is about 1.
Since 1880, only one other March tornado event seems to compare in intensity to March 13, 1990: The "Palm Sunday" tornado outbreak on March 23, 1913. Several tornadoes devastated the Omaha area on that fateful day. 103 people were killed, including 94 in Omaha. At least 600 homes were destroyed in Omaha and another 1,100 damaged. There were no less than four F4 tornadoes reported.
|Map of the paths of the multiple tornadoes. The associated Fujita (F-scale) rating is depicted with the tornado tracks. Note: this map does not include all of the F1 tornadoes or the brief F0 tornado.||Map of severe weather reports across the Plains and Midwest. Tornados and paths are indicated by red. Hail reports are in black.||Table depiction depicting the number of tornadoes across Kansas and Nebraska on March 13, 1990. Many of the tornados were strong (F2 or F3) or violent (F4 or F5).|
Meteorologically, several ingredients need to come together to for weather conditions to be conducive for tornado development. On March 13, 1990, a strong surface low pressure was located in north central Kansas. The low pulled unseasonably warm and most air north into the south central Nebraska and north central Kansas. Surface dewpoint temperatures rose to above 60 degrees in eastern Nebraska while surface temperatures topped 70 degrees in northern Kansas. A surface dryline, or push of dry air from the west southwest, bulged into north central Kansas, and was part of the spark to ignite the explosive instability in place. Typical of strong March weather systems, while central and eastern Nebraska and Kansas were impacted by severe weather, the Nebraska panhandle experienced heavy snow, ice and wintry weather conditions. Some areas of the Nebraska panhandle measured up to 8 inches of snow. Blizzard-like conditions were reported.
Late Afternoon Surface Map
(click to enlarge)
Now, let's look back at the facts and impacts of the tornadoes, by ranking, on March 13, 1990:
Highlights of the "Lawrence Tornado":
The articles below are just snippets of the numerous ones written about the tornadoes, damage and impacts. Click on the images to enlarge.
|Hastings, Tribune||Lawrence Locomotive||Henderson News||Grand Island Independent|
Highlights from the tornado northwest of Grand Island:
Highlights from the Minden/Lowell tornado:
Highlights from the Carleton/Exeter tornado:
|Nance County Journal||York News Times||Omaha World Herald|
Highlights from the Belgrade tornado:
Highlights from the Wilcox tornado:
Highlights from the Prosser/Wood River tornado:
|Gibbon Reporter||The Red Cloud Chief||Hebron Journal - Register|
Additional tornadoes (F1 and F0):
Several F1 tornadoes and an F0 tornado also touched down on the 13th. An F1 had a 13 mile track from 2 miles north of Smith Center, KS, and lifted just two miles south of the Nebraska border (6 miles east of Thornburg, KS). An F1 tracked for 1.5 miles about 1.5 miles northeast of Esbon, KS. At Lovewell Lake, a tornado began 2 miles south of the lake, and moved north northeast across the lake, lifting near Webber. Several large trees were ripped from the ground and several boats and small buildings were destroyed. An F1 tornado began 2 miles northwest of Shelton and moved northeast for one mile, causing minor damage. An F1 tornado started 2 miles southeast of Fullerton and moved northeast to three miles east of town before lifting. Trees were uprooted and power lines destroyed. Finally, an F0 tornado occurred briefly in an open field two miles north of Kearney.
The National Weather Service in Hastings would like to thank all those who contributed to this article, especially Kris Stoltenburg, Robert Schroeder and Harold Rehtus for giving permission to include their video. The newspaper clippings are from local office archives provided to the NWS by a clipping service.
|This page was composed by the staff at the National Weather Service in Hastings, Nebraska.|