Tornadoes are one of the most common severe weather events in the United States. They can occur across a wide area in the Midwest known as Tornado Alley.
Nebraska sees a high volume of tornadoes during the spring and summer. However, they can happen year round in some parts of the state.
Tornadoes form when thunderstorms interact with air in specific ways. These winds are usually referred to as "wind shear."
Storms with high wind shear often rotate to the west, producing tornadoes. They are most likely to form along "drylines," which separate very warm, moist air to the east from very hot, dry air to the west.
In Nebraska, tornadoes are most common during the spring as storms move across the state. This is because the cold Arctic air that moves in from the North clashes with the warmer Gulf of Mexico air that flows up from the South.
The average number of tornadoes in Nebraska has remained relatively consistent over the years. However, some years are quieter than others, and a few have been especially active.
Weather patterns play a role in the number of tornadoes that occur in Nebraska. In general, storms produce more tornadoes in the spring and summer.
During the spring, warmer temperatures and higher humidity help to stimulate thunderstorm activity in this region. Tornadoes are most likely to develop in the afternoon as thunderstorms erupt from the warm, moist air.
In June and July, cooler temperatures and lower humidity typically decrease the likelihood of tornadoes. This is a climatologically normal cycle for the central United States.
On March 13, a line of supercell thunderstorms roared through central Nebraska. That storm would produce the longest-track tornado in Nebraska state history, ripping 124 miles from Red Cloud near the Kansas border to Schuyler near the Platte River.
Tornadoes form in thunderstorms where unseasonably warm, moist air collides with cold air at middle atmospheric levels. This combination, combined with strong upper-level jet stream winds, tends to increase tornado probabilities in Nebraska and across the southern and central plains.
Tornadoes can occur anytime during the day, but they most often form in the late afternoon and evening hours. They can also occur at night but are less likely.
Storm spotters look for a few different signs that a tornado may be approaching. These signs include ragged bands of low-level clouds called inflow bands.
They may also notice a cloud base that has persistently rotated and is moving rapidly, or a wall cloud.
If you suspect a tornado is developing, you should seek shelter in an isolated location. A basement or other sturdy, concrete-floored area is the safest place to be. If you don’t have a basement, a closet or bathroom is a good option.
As a Midwestern state that is famous for its cattle and corn, Nebraska is known as "The Beef State" or "The Cornhusker State." The agriculture industry makes up more than 90 percent of the economy in this area.
When tornadoes do strike, however, they can cause significant damage. This is particularly true when a storm hits a large population.
For example, on March 23, 2013, a deadly tornado ravaged rural farm communities across northeast Nebraska and western Iowa. The resulting damage was unprecedented.
Two tornadoes touched down in Pilger, about 80 miles northwest of Omaha, killing at least one person and causing significant damage to the town. The storm also damaged or destroyed several other towns in northeast Nebraska near the Iowa border, including Pender, Stanton, and Wisner.