The storm that hit Blair, Nebraska on June 3, 2014 is one we won’t ever forget. Hundred-mile-an-hour, straight-line winds that ripped through the town. There was hail the size of baseballs. Leaves shredded from trees. Houses pelted as if in a war zone. Car lots with millions in damaged vehicles.
On June 3, 2014, Blair, Nebraska, and surrounding areas were hit by a particularly severe storm that combined elements of a derecho and a supercell, a phenomenon that meteorologists termed a “land hurricane.” This event was distinct in that it merged the characteristics of a derecho—a windstorm with extremely powerful straight-line winds but rarely producing hail—with those of a supercell—a massive thunderstorm characterized by a deep, persistent, updraft that often produces hailstones. The combination led to massive hailstones being whipped at buildings, houses, and cars with devastating force.
The day started like any other summer day in Nebraska. Still, as the afternoon came, the skies darkened, signaling an oncoming storm. As the storm approached, it rapidly became clear that it was far from ordinary. Initially, quarter-sized hail began to fall, which quickly escalated in size and intensity. The hail grew to the size of baseballs, and the storm produced winds as high as 90 mph. These winds and hail combined to cause significant damage throughout Blair.
The effects of the storm were catastrophic, with nearly every window at a local dealership shattered by the hail and winds. Drivers sought shelter at the dealership amid the chaos. The hail and wind were so powerful that they gave the appearance of a scene with “bloody heads” and surroundings looking “like Swiss cheese” when it was all over. A local teacher, Mandy Grabbe, and her family took shelter in their basement as the storm raged above, causing water to drip on them from above. The noise was described as if someone was repeatedly throwing a softball against their house.
The wind speeds varied depending on the location, with speeds outside of the towns getting as high as 70-100 mph, forcing people off the roads. Within towns, wind speeds were closer to 50-60 mph, but the destruction was just as severe. Nearly every car had the back windshields blown out by the hail.
In terms of precipitation, the month of June 2014 was particularly wet, with the entire 30-county area observing above-normal rainfall. At least 55% of the area measured at least twice the normal June rainfall, with some areas even exceeding three times the normal amount. Although there were several instances of minor, short-term flooding due to the significant amounts of rain, widespread, significant flooding was relatively minimal, as most heavy rain events were spaced out across the area in both locations and time.
The increased rainfall, however, had a significant positive impact on the long-term drought situation in the region. By the end of June, the percentage of counties in south-central Nebraska deemed to be drought-free was the largest in over two years. This marked the first time since June 2012 that no portion of the area was assigned a category of D2 severe-or-worse drought. The majority of the 30-county area observed a one-category improvement in drought conditions over the course of the month, with limited areas improving by two categories.
With the benefit of significant June rainfall came an inevitably above-normal amount of severe weather. The National Weather Service issued Severe Thunderstorm and/or Tornado Warnings on 15 of the 30 days during June. Although there were many dozens of reports of large hail and damaging winds across the area, there was a relatively small number of confirmed tornadoes (only 8 total, the two strongest of which were only rated EF-1).
Overall, this event highlighted the power of nature and the impact of severe weather events on communities. Despite the severity of the storm and the extensive damage caused, it also brought some positive effects, such as relieving the area from a long-standing drought. However, the immediate aftermath of the storm required significant recovery and rebuilding efforts for the affected communities.
Every year since, as we approach June 3, I remember that day. This year was no different. I wondered if we’d see a storm. Maybe the day before, the day after.
The storm today came from “out of nowhere.” People I spoke with were genuinely surprised at the severity of this storm – even those who thought we might get “a little rain” were stunned at what took place, as a rare storm from the east plowed through Blair.
Today, as I heard the pelt of hail on our windows, and felt the shudder of the house as wind pushed and pulled, it did not come to me that today was June 4. It was only after the storm passed and I was out in the streets that I realized today was, indeed, June 4, just a day after the 9-year anniversary of that wicked storm in 2014.
I asked an officer up the street who sat in his car holding back traffic from under a downed tree, “Do you know what today’s date is? He said, ‘June 4.'” I added, “Look up the 2014 storm in Blair…” As his eyes looked down at the phone in his hand, he typed, scrolled, then looked at me and said, “You gotta be kidding me.”
Today’s storm was not the equal to the monster that hit Blair in 2014. But, Blair received significant damage today as some residents I spoke with felt we had “80 mph” winds. One person told me there was “rotation” and the winds were not “straight line.”
In fact, there had to be rotation to rip trees apart and fling the debris in opposite directions. The wind was not only strong, but twisting. Although not the same storm of 2014, dangerous and costly in it’s own way.
If you did not recall the storm in 2014, you will surely consider the week of June 4, next year. And, if you’re wise, you’ll have your phone charged, basement clear, and picnics scheduled for some other day.