Historical day serves as a reminder of Mother Nature's power
For many of us, May 6th is another day in our lives where the flowers and trees are in bloom, many of us are at the ball fields watching and rooting on our local teams and the weather can be picture perfect. But for longtime and former residents of Omaha, May 6th is a date that will live in the minds of those who experienced the true force of nature's wrath. Thirty years ago, May 6, 1975, a massive and deadly F-4 tornado slammed into the west-central part of the Omaha metro that left three people dead, over 300 injured and caused nearly a billion dollars in damage in its wake. Friday marked the 30th anniversary on what is still considered one of the costliest storms in United States history.
Today, only a few scars remain of the damage inflicted by the twister's power. Warning sirens and broadcast advisories worked 30 years ago and perhaps kept the death toll low. Smaller tornadoes have skirted their way around the metro, but serve as a reminder of years past and the possiblity of a similar event to 1975 could happen again.
Five years later, June 3, 1980, Grand Island felt the same pain and sorrow that Omahans experienced previously. However, seven tornadoes over a three-hour span devestated portions of Grand Island and killed five people, while injuring over 200 others. Unlike Omaha, the Grand Island disaster sprung up out of nowhere and was the only storm within a 500 mile radius of the area. No tornado watches were in effect that evening in 1980 and the forecast called for a low probability of thundershowers.
Aside from athletics, I've always had a passion of studying and watching severe weather since I was a kid. Growing up in Lincoln, I never really had to worry about losing a home and my belongings to tornadoes. Granted, we always went to the basement when a tornado warning was issued for Lincoln but nothing major ever came about! For most of my life, I've thoroughly studied the Omaha and Grand Island disasters, because they have hit close to home. It REALLY hit close to home last year.
I can honestly be among those who never forget a disasterous event such as a tornado. May 22, 2004 was a hot and humid day in eastern Nebraska with the forecast calling for a high risk of severe weather. After mowing my lawn and getting cleaned up, I noticed the sky to the west-southwest of Lincoln was getting bleak and decided to tune into the local TV stations to find out more on the weather. At about the same time, I'm summoned to my regular news job at KLIN radio because of the threatening weather conditions, not knowing what will happen over the course of the next four hours.
After one tornado warning after the other kept coming through our newsroom, I decided to break away briefly from anchoring our storm coverage and call home to tell my wife and stepdaughter to head to the basement as a precaution. While there was no immediate threat toward Lincoln, my feeling was better safe than sorry on this night.
During our weather coverage on KLIN and our three Broadcast House sister stations, I received word that the community of Hallam and Norris High School had been completely wiped out by a monsterous two-and-a-half mile wide twister that roared on a 50 mile trek to the south and east of Lincoln. I knew then that we were very fortunate it didn't turn northward and head straight for the Capital City. The next day, I toured the damaged areas in Hallam and southern Lancaster County and was completely amazed to see such a display of Mother Nature's power.
In retrospect, learning from past experiences has improved the communication process of warning residents to take cover during severe weather. But during this time of the year, never let your guard down when nasty weather approaches.