Our intent was to chase down a tornado or two in central Nebraska Monday afternoon. Of course, after picking up my daughter from day care, getting her and the babysitter situated, and getting my wife, my stuff, and myself in the car, we missed the tornadoes by about 30 minutes! Shucks! So, with our heads hanging low, we decided to hang around Lincoln, NE for a bit to see if the line of storms that was basically stationary from Lincoln south would do anything interesting. Aside from some pretty awesome lightning it was soon apparent that nothing tornadic would come of that mess. We were heading back towards Omaha and stopped at BK in Wahoo for a quick bite. As I placed our orders I could see that the line was now extending well north and seemed to be moving slowly east towards us. After a 5 minute delay to get the food situated we were on our way once again. We were heading east down highway 92 and while chomping on my last chicken nugget I caught an interesting sight off to our south. I could see the leading edge of the thunderstorms in a very defined bow shape which means very strong winds. The strong winds were confirmed when dirt began to fly into the air as the winds reached the surface and the whole system increased in speed and intensity towards the east. Check out the picture below.
I snapped one or two more shots, but it began to close in fast upon us. The next two pictures are radar images two minutes after I took the picture above. It shows the main bow echo heading right towards Omaha, NE. We are situated just to the north of the bow and south of the dot for OAX, which is the National Weather Service in Valley, NE. The first radar picture is the reflectivity image showing the intensity of the rain within the storms. The second is the storm relative velocity image which shows the speed that the wind is blowing towards (blue) or away (orange) from the radar at OAX. You can see a nice dark blue blob almost right on top of us just south of OAX. It represents a wind of about 70MPH.
We got back on the road and I noticed that I was doing 65mph yet the storm was outrunning me. I felt like I was back in middle school trying not to get last in the 100M dash. I sped up to 75mph, but it was too late. At Venice, NE (about 25 min from I-680 in Omaha) we got pummeled with 70+mph winds. Branches began flying through the air like they were feathers. CLINK! BANG! SMACK! They kept hitting the side of the car as my wife prayed for them not to come through her window. I was praying too, but also dodging numerous 2-inch diameter limbs that were strewn about the roadway. Somehow I also managed to dial the fire department and asked them to relay my report of estimated 75mph winds and numerous branches down at Venice and highway 92. They quickly relayed it and we heard it on the weather radio, “Storm Spotters estimated 75MPH winds in Venice — Take shelter now!”
Somehow we briefly got ahead of the storm, but not for long since we had to take a slight jog north to get on Dodge St. Then it hit us again, just as hard if not harder, and it was round two. More branches, more traffic, and much more debris piling up against the median on Dodge. Boxes, tire scraps, work cones, and more. I dodged the slower drivers and eventually exited at 156th and Dodge to head home. The sirens were wailing as a warning to those outdoors that dangerously high winds were approaching the entire city, including TD Ameritrade Park where the College World Series was underway. We called our sitter and told her what to expect so she wasn’t too freaked out when the wind picked up.
As usual, the winds came up quickly and calmed back down just as fast. Several traffic lights were out as we slowly made our way home because of the outages. It was a nasty storm causing some wind damage to homes and businesses, knocked trees over, knocked out power, caused some minor street flooding, and interrupted a College World Series game, but, luckily, no one was hurt.
Even though we didn’t catch the ever-elusive tornado. We still had a pretty exciting time being “chased” by the bow echo.