By Al Schmahl
Independent Managing Editor
Originally Published Wednesday, June 4, 1980
An unusually slow moving low pressure area which spawned anywhere from five to 15 tornadoes was responsible for the devastation and death which struck Grand Island Tuesday night.
That was the description provided by Don Davis, meteorologist in charge of the Grand Island Weather Service office.
Davis explained that normally a tornado accompanies a fast moving cold front, traveling in a southwest to northeast direction. But Tuesday night's storms, he said, were associated stationary fronts which have been hovering around Nebraska since last Thursday.
"We tracked the low from Dannebrog in a curve through Grand Island to about Phillips," he said. "It took four hours to go some 30 miles."
Davis explained that the first word of funnel clouds came from the Dannebrog area at about 8:15 p.m. Those funnels, he said, were moving in the conventional northeasterly direction. But Weather Service officials soon realized the storm system itself was moving in a southerly direction, directly toward Grand Island, and picked up a "hook echo" on radar northwest of Grand Island at about 8:30 p.m.
A "meso" low developed within the thunderstorm, he said. Such low pressure areas are no more than eight to 10 miles across, he said, in contrast to the large lows normally seen on a weather map, but are extremely intense.
In this case, tornadoes dipped out of the periphery of the low, which was almost stationary as it crossed Grand Island.
Davis said warning sirens were sounded around 9 p.m., and the first actual report of a tornado came at about 9:45 p.m. on Capitol Avenue, some two miles east of Northwest High School. What followed was apparently a series of small tornadoes, rather than one huge one, Davis said. And it was almost midnight before the storm began to dissipate east of Phillips.
Davis said that when you look from the ground at the clouds, they move in a clockwise direction, around a meso low, which provides the swirling action seen.
Weather radar, Davis said, "tracks the parent thunderstorm that produces the tornado, not the tornado itself; radar actually shows the water droplets within the storm."
Davis warned that more severe thunderstorms are predicted for the state Wednesday, because the same series of frontal systems remain over Nebraska.
As of mid-morning, official rain measurements had not been taken, but Davis said it had to be three to four inches at the Weather Service office and probably more in Grand Island.
He said there should be no flooding problems for Grand Island, barring more heavy rain, but that Prairie and Silver Creek may be running bank full, and Wood River to the east, and it would have to be monitored.