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Landspout tornado seen near Colorado-Nebraska border Monday

 

Don Ogle / Sun-Telegraph Editor

A landspout tornado dropped from the sky west of Peetz Monday afternoon, while sister funnels added to danger in the area. Threatening weather resulted in tornado sirens being triggered in Sidney with unconfirmed reports of funnels and tornadic activity.

Memorial Day solemnity was interrupted Monday afternoon as Sidney citizens were warned about tornado activity in the area after two cold-air funnel clouds were spotted near the Colorado-Nebraska panhandle border.

At 2:04 p.m., a confirmed landspout tornado was located in the area, moving east at 10 miles per hour. The tornado's path was projected to be near the Sidney airport around 2:20 p.m. and in Sidney around 2:25 p.m.

A tornado warning was issued until 2:30 p.m., and was later extended to 3 p.m. when it expired after the storm which prompted the warning weakened below severe limits and appeared to no longer be capable of producing a tornado.

Ron Leal, Director of Region 21 Emergency Management, said the two cold-air funnel clouds near the Nebraska state line.

"They were quite a ways away from Sidney," Leal said. "But it's that time of the season, so people need to be prepared for it."

Leal said it takes a supercell, often known as a rotating thunderstorm that is categorized with a persistent rotating updraft, to form a tornado. Landspouts, however, can form out of bad weather without a supercell present.

"They still do damage," he said. "One video I saw from the Logan County Sheriff's office, there was a building hit and was destroyed just west of Peetz. Landspouts are still dangerous."

Leal said landspouts can form without any notice.

"I saw the thunderstorm coming in, but I didn't think anything about it," he said. "But then the fire chief in Potter told me to look out my back door, and I could see the two twin funnels, and oh boy."

Rod Williams was working with his son-in-law six miles west of Peetz just before the tornado struck and demolished the barn they were working in. When he saw the clouds get worse, Williams told his son, "Were going to get wet, we better buckle everything up and head out."

"We weren't even to Sterling before we got the call that the barn was destroyed," Williams said.

Jim Gardiner had just bought the property the barn sat on from Williams in January, "I sold it in much better condition," Williams joked. Gardiner watched the destruction the tornado did to his property from his parents' home four miles away.

"It was gone in a matter of seconds," said Gardiner.

Sifting through the debris Tuesday morning, Gardiner and Williams hoped to find some items that were salvageable, but the barn however was a complete loss. The cost of the damage is yet to be determined.

Greg Griswinski lives just feet from where the tornado took the barn. He lost his front door in the storm.

"I was mowing the lawn, and went to get something from the truck and it was on the ground," Griswinski said, "I was in a daze trying to decide what to do next." He said the colors were what hit him the most were "Greens, blacks, and browns, I'm not sure if it was from the debris, but the sound was like a freight train," Griswinski said. He and his son headed to the basement and listened as debris hit their house.

Tornadoes are rated on the Fujita scale and based primarily on the damage tornadoes inflict on human-built structures and vegetation. The tornadoes are rated 0-5, with 5 being the most damaging. As of printing, the landspout from Monday had not been rated on the scale.

Tornado season in the Nebraska panhandle runs from April to July, although Leal said it could start as early as March and extend well in to the fall season.

"It can go clear into October with threats for tornados," he said.

According to information from the National Weather Service, prior to Memorial Day there had been a total of 51 tornadoes in Cheyenne County since 1950, with the last near Huntsman in 2013. The tornado was rated an EF-0 tornado and did not cause any damage.

The largest tornado in Cheyenne County was an EF-3 in 1985, causing $2.5 million in damage.

Sirens are located throughout the city to serve as an outdoor early warning device and are generally activated if a tornado is spotted within 10 miles of Sidney or if the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning that encompasses Sidney.

The system is tested every Wednesday at 10 a.m., but if sirens are heard at other times, it means residents should get inside.

Amanda Tafolla-Sutton

Rod Williams picks up pieces of the barn that was hit by a tornado Monday afternoon near Peetz, Colorado. Behind him a grain trailer lays on its side after being picked up and dropped in the tree line by the tornado.

In the case of a tornado warning, residents should take cover in a safe place such as a basement or an area away from windows. Mobile home residents should leave for a more permanent structure until the warning has passed.

Leal said residents should also prepare an emergency kit with supplies and food that can last at least three days.

"They should keep it prepared and in their safe room," he said. "Have medication, water, food like energy bars and stuff that will last for quite some time."

Leal also recommended signing up for the community emergency notification system CodeRED through the City of Sidney's website at cityofsidney.org.

"The best thing is to be prepared," he said. "You never know when a tornado might hit, so be prepared in advance."

For more information on tornado preparedness and how to build an emergency kit, contact the Region 21 Emergency Management office at (308) 254-7003.

 

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