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The 1975 Omaha Tornado

The morning of Tuesday, May 6, 1975 started out like any other for most people. People went to work, they went to school, ran errands and carried on like it was any other day. That all changed around 12:30 in the afternoon when the National Weather service issued a tornado watch for eastern Nebraska. By about 2 that afternoon the Weather Service issues another warning for a severe thunderstorm. People began to take notice of the sky and seeing a change.

By 4pm Pottawattamie County sights the first tornado. The sirens are set off. And while this tornado is the first, it is not the one that hits Omaha. At 4:10 Sarpy County gives off its alarm when a tornado is spotted by several citizens. Omaha then sounds off their alarms at 4:29 when the tornado gives a brief touchdown at 132nd Street and Harrison.

REACT, AREC, the Sheriff’s office, Police Division, and Fire Division are receiving several tornado reports at 4:33. This time the tornado touches down and hits the apartments located at 96th and Q.

Saving many lives that day were Captain Robert Rockwell, of the Fire Division and Patrolman David Campbell who both followed and drove along side the tornado sounding the siren and reporting location, movement and damage. They followed along as the tornado moved north along 84th from the South side of I-80 and again as it shifted east from 84th, hitting and damaging Bergan Mercy Hospital.

The terrifying ordeal was over by 4:58pm when the tornado dissipated once it hit Benson Park. Despite being an F4 tornado that’s path extended 10 miles and was 200-300 yards in width, the death toll was low, with 3 people killed and 133 injured. Thankfully, no fires occurred but some 4,500 homes were destroyed or damaged and cost roughly $400 million in damage, over a billion dollars with current inflation.

Because the tornado hit during daylight hours, as well as children being home from schools at that point, many people were able to seek shelter and save themselves.

Westgate Elementary school was irreparably damaged in the wake of the twister. While Bergan Mercy Hospital, Lewis and Clark Middle School, Creighton Prep and the United Methodist Church were all severely damaged during the outbreak as well.

Omaha was not the only state to have been touched by this dangerous storm system. A two-day outbreak hit most of the Midwest and Southern United States between the 6th and 7th of May. Between six states, 36 tornadoes touched down.

Times has helped to sooth wounds and memories. The city rebuilt and became stronger. But few have forgotten that day. If you remember the tornado of 1975, please send us your account of the storm. Adding it to our archives helps to preserve our history.

Ribbon of Destruction: The 1913 Douglas County Tornado

Sunday, March 23, 1913 marked the happy religious celebrations of both Easter and the Jewish holiday of Purim.  The joy ended at 6 pm when a monster tornado, one of six in Eastern Nebraska, virtually obliterated the new industrial suburb of Ralston and cut a wide ribbon of death and destruction through the heart of Omaha.

Moving in a northeasterly direction, it swept over West Lawn and Bohemian cemeteries and collided with the city proper near 56th and Center Streets.  Damaging or destroying virtually everything in its wake, it crossed Leavenworth east of Saddle Creek Road and swept up the hill to wreak havoc in the fashionable West Farnam area, 38th to 44th Streets. It then moved downhill through the 38th Street Gold Coast area and across the Bemis Park neighborhood, 33rd to 36th Streets.  Ruthlessly it reduced densely populated, ethnically diverse, working-class neighborhoods of North Omaha to rubble – from 30th and Lincoln Boulevard, to 24th and Lake, to 16th and Maple, across Carter Lake and on into Iowa.

Newspaper headlines of the time proclaimed from $3 to $10 million in property loss. The damage included ten churches, five schools, three convents, and a hospital. Of the more than 2,000 houses struck by the tornado, some 750 were destroyed, rendering over 2,000 people homeless.  The twister demolished railroad rolling stock and roundhouses; poles and lines of the electric, telephone and telegraph, and the traction companies; and a large number of automobiles on the streets or in their garages. It carried debris up to 90 miles away in Iowa.

Death counts ranged from 94 to 170, plus the scores of horses, mules, cattle and wildlife, as well as pets; dogs, cats and birds. Low casualty numbers resulted from not including individuals who subsequently succumbed to injuries caused by the storm and by not reporting deaths of out-of-towners to the county coroner.   The best estimate for the city proper probably rests at slightly over 100 and nearly 150 for the greater Omaha area. By all measure, the tornado of 1913 endures as one of the worst calamities in Nebraska history.

In March of 1913, Midwesterners endured extensive death and destruction from episodes of violent weather. Approximately 1,600 people died in floods that inundated almost all of the river towns in Indiana and Ohio.  On March 21, a cluster of tornadoes blew through Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana and Alabama, killing approximately 60 people.

1913 Tornadoes

Number of Tornadoes                       6

Number of Killer Tornadoes              4

Total Number Killed                          168

Total Number Injured                        590

Total Dollar Damage                         6 million


The worst tornado disaster in eastern Nebraska and southwest Iowa occurred on March 23, 1913. This tornado is the 13th greatest killer tornado on record in the U.S.


Data courtesy of DCHS Ribbon of Destruction; 2013.


The  pastor conducting a wedding ceremony at the German-English Lutheran  Church at 28th and Parker successfully herded the celebrants to the basement. The bride and groom had rushed to their car to drive away but returned and survived.  Their car was not found.

Mail carrier Cliff Daniels, his wife and their two children perished I the wreckage of their home at 2814 N 19 Avenue. The funeral procession went from Pearl Memorial Methodist Church to Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

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