Nebraska May 10, 2016
A Terrifying, Deadly Storm Struck Nebraska In 1913… And No One Saw It Coming
Nebraska has seen some pretty terrifying and destructive tornadoes over the years, but none was deadlier than the outbreak of storms that struck on March 23, 1913 – Easter Sunday. The tornadoes killed a record number of people – more than 100 – and caused millions of dollars of damage in eastern Nebraska.
There were no weather radars back then, no TV meteorologists to tell people to take cover. The day dawned warm and sunny, which was a welcome break from the chilly spring weather.
By 5 pm, the lovely day turned into a stormy nightmare. A huge storm system formed at least four tornadoes that would rip through several villages and towns in Nebraska. Several more tornadoes spawned that day in Iowa from the same storm system.
The deadliest tornado of the day began in Sarpy County and then swept through north Omaha, leveling buildings and wiping out homes.
These pictures show the devastation caused by the massive tornado in Omaha. Although the Fujita Scale - the method by which tornado intensity is measured - didn't exist then, the Easter Sunday tornadoes were later classified as F-4s, just one step lower than the most severe category.
In Omaha alone, as many as 2000 homes and buildings were leveled. A pool hall in north Omaha was not only destroyed by the storm; a gas line was broken in the tornado and the building ignited, killing 25 people inside.
The utter devastation of this deadly outbreak has never been matched in Nebraska. The damages climbed to $10 million, which would be $240 million in 2016.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly how many people were killed in the tornado outbreak, partly because there were seven tornadoes that ripped through both Nebraska and Iowa from the same storm system. Methods of reporting and transmitting information were much less sophisticated in 1913, and sometimes facts were changed, lost, or muddled from one outlet to the next. Records of the deaths range from 101 to 168.
What we do know for sure is that the wicked storms - and the one that struck Omaha in particular - were incredibly intense and extremely destructive. But as a testament to the spirit of Nebraska people, life went on. The next day, cleanup and rebuilding efforts began in earnest, and the city rose from the rubble.
This tornado outbreak left hundreds of people dead, injured, and homeless. It’s one of Nebraska’s greatest tragedies, and one that will hopefully never be matched.