Devil Clouds: Tornadoes Strike Nebraska
Actual photo of the 1913 Easter tornado in Omaha (courtesy: Douglas County Historical Society)
The site of the Idlewild Pool Hall at 24th and Lake in Omaha, where 25 people died (courtesy: The Durham Museum)
CLICK HERE for more images from the 1913 Easter Sunday tornadoes, as well as the production of "Devil Clouds"
CLICK HERE to see what weather forecasting and the U.S. Weather Bureau looked like in the early 1900s.
Beulah Adams was returning to her Bemis Park house in Omaha when the tornado struck. Two days later she described her experience in a detailed letter to her mother.
- Read the full letter: original and transcription (courtesy: Douglas County Historical Society)
- Learn more about Adams in this photo gallery
- Watch this video story about Adams, her letter and the tornado
The most devastating tornado cut a seven mile swath through Ralston and Omaha, killing 101 people. All told, the tornado outbreak would be responsible for 168 deaths in Nebraska and Iowa, mostly Nebraska, and nearly $10 million in damage (more than $200 million in today’s dollars).
“Devil Clouds: Tornadoes Strike Nebraska” is an NET News documentary project that tells more than a storm story. Developed in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the event (which took place on March 23, 1913), it’s a story full of heroes and colorful characters; a story of tragedy, but also recovery and resolve; and the story of a city and state in transition. It’s a story so well documented visually that it offers an intriguing glimpse into the disaster, and the lives of 1913 Nebraskans in places like Omaha, Ralston, Yutan and Otoe (called Berlin at the time).
The one hour "Devil Clouds: Tornadoes Strike Nebraska" television documentary premiered March 22. The project also included a series of NET News Signature Stories on NET Radio, as well as the wealth of additional content and information you'll find on this web site.
For this project, we've tapped into the knowledge of a number of historians and other experts, including:
- David Bristow - Nebraska State Historical Society associate director, and author of “Dirty, Wicked Town: Tales of 19th Century Omaha”
- Donna Caniglia - Ralston historian (involved with Frank and Velma Johnson - Ralston Archives Museum)
- Harl Dalstrom - Univ. of Nebraska at Omaha history professor (retired), and co-author of “Upstream Metropolis: An Urban Biography of Omaha and Council Bluffs”
- Joni Fogarty - retired Omaha teacher who gives presentations on the tornado
- Shirley Gilfert - Otoe County historian (involved with Otoe County Museum of Memories)
- Erin Hauser - Saunders County Museum curator
- Sr. Lucy Hayes - archivist, Duchesne Academy
- Dennis Mihelich - Creighton Univ. history professor (retired)
- Terri Norton - assistant professor of construction engineering and architectural engineering, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln
- Mark Scherer - Univ. of Nebraska at Omaha history professor
- Travis Sing - author of “Omaha’s Easter Tornado of 1913”
- Brian Smith - meteorologist, National Weather Service Omaha/Valley
Questions or comments about the "Devil Clouds" project? E-mail NET News Senior Producer Mike Tobias.
TIMELINE: Sunday, March 23, 1913
Morning – Forecasts in Nebraska newspapers predicted warmer temperatures and rain. There is no mention of the possibility of severe weather.
Early Afternoon – Union Pacific President A.L. Mohler, “finding his barometer at lowest ebb,” has telegrams sent to others working for the railroad warning them to look out for weather trouble.
Paths of the 1913 Easter Tornadoes
Nebraska's Deadliest Tornadoes (listed by primary area impacted and number of Nebraska deaths)
|March 23, 1913||Omaha, Ralston||101|
|March 23, 1913||Yutan||20|
|March 23, 1913||Berlin (now Otoe)||13|
|June 5, 1908||Carleton, Geneva||12|
|June 13, 1899||Herman||11|
|June 7, 1953||Arcadia||11|
|June 21, 1901||Keya Paha valley||10|
|May 14, 1913||Grafton, Seward||8|
|May 22, 1933||Tryon||8|
|June 3, 1890||Bradshaw||7|
|July 4, 1945||Polk, Butler County||7|
5:30 p.m. – An F-4 tornado begins a 55 mile path southeast of Mead, Neb. It’s responsible for 22 deaths and more than 50 injuries; most are in Yutan, Neb., where the northern half of the village is destroyed. Dozens of homes and buildings are leveled as the tornado continues to Logan, Iowa. Note: this ranks as the second deadliest tornado in Nebraska history.
5:30 p.m. – An F-3 tornado forms near Havelock, Neb. (now part of Lincoln). It destroys a few homes and farms at Prairie Home, Neb., and near Greenwood, Neb. This tornado, which covers 15 miles, is responsible for two injuries and no deaths.
5:45 p.m. – An F-4 tornado touches down in Ralston, Neb., then cuts a diagonal path through the west and north sides of Omaha, Neb. More than 100 people are killed, hundreds more injured, and approximately 2000 homes and buildings are damaged or destroyed. The tornado travels 40 miles to near Beebeetown, Iowa, where two others are killed. Note: this ranks as the deadliest tornado in Nebraska history.
6:15 p.m. – An F-4 tornado forms south of Bellevue, Neb., and hits the southern edge of Council Bluffs, Iowa and continues for 48 miles toward Harlan, Iowa. The tornado is responsible for 25 deaths, all in Iowa and most in Council Bluffs, with another 75 people injured.
6:15 p.m. – An F-4 tornado touches down near Douglas, Neb., and begins leveling farms in Otoe County as it heads toward the village of Berlin (now called Otoe). A dozen people are killed in Berlin, where few structures are left standing. It travels 65 miles to Macedonia, Iowa, causing a total of 18 deaths and more than 100 injuries. Note: this ranks as the third deadliest tornado in Nebraska history.
7:00 p.m. – The seventh and final Nebraska tornado of the day is an F-2 that is on the ground for 5 miles, damaging a few homes and the school in Burchard, Neb., and causing no deaths or injuries.
Information compiled from multiple sources, including “Significant Tornadoes 1681-1991” by Thomas P. Grazulis.