March 23

This Day in History

Disaster

Mar 23, 1913:

Tornadoes devastate Nebraska

A horrible month for weather-related disasters in the United States culminates with a devastating tornado ripping through Nebraska, near Omaha, on this day in 1913. It was the worst of five twisters that struck that day in Nebraska and Iowa, killing 115 people in total.

The week prior to this disaster saw all types of calamitous weather strike throughout the country. Blizzards hit the Northeast while hurricane-strength winds were battering Alabama and Georgia. In Florida, a late freeze devastated much of the citrus crop. But the worst weather came in Nebraska on the afternoon of March 23.

Rain began falling at 5 p.m., southwest of Omaha. Twenty minutes later, the first tornado touched down in Craig, Nebraska. At 5:30, another twister hit the town of Ithaca and began a 70-mile run through the countryside. In Yutan, a woman was reported to have been carried a full quarter-mile in her home before coming down unharmed.

It was the third tornado that did the most damage. It began near Ashland, 65 miles from Omaha. The people of Omaha believed that due to the location of the city, separated from the flatlands of the Nebraska plains, they were protected from tornadoes. On March 23, this belief was proven to be mistaken. The tornado roared and cut through the city for 12 minutes. Witnesses reported seeing houses explode or collapse in seconds. Seven people at the Idlewild Pool Hall were killed when they were struck by a pool table thrown violently into the air. Fires broke out all over the city, forcing the delivery of electricity to be discontinued. Lanterns were needed to guide rescue workers. Fortunately, the heavy rains put out most of the fires.

Meanwhile, another twister traveled from Berlin, Nebraska, into Iowa, killing 26 people total in both states. Within two days, heavy snow hit the area, complicating clean-up efforts. Overall, 115 people were killed, hundreds of homes were demolished and millions of dollars in damages were incurred by the tornadoes. The next deadly tornado in Omaha did not strike until 1975.

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