On the afternoon of May 6, 1975 a giant tornado (F4) swept across my town moving from the Southwest part of town to the Northeast. We listened to radio news men tracking it as it moved closer to our block. Each time the radio went back on the tornado was marching ever closer. It seemed as if it were heading directly for us, because it was heading right for us but mercifully it lifted about 8 blocks away. Remarkably, given the enormous size and scope of the tornado, only 3 people died. 157 were hospitalized. It hit a hospital but missed the racetrack (whence the best photo of the tornado). It hit two grade schools and destroyed a shopping mall. It crossed what was then the busiest intersection in the city, during rush hour.
(HT: Brian Onstead)
When it was all over it looked as if bombs had been dropped across the city. The streets were littered with tree limbs and shingles torn from area roofs. Power lines were down everywhere. Telephone poles were snapped as if they were nothing but toothpicks. The light poles at a nearby softball field were twisted like red licorice. We moved to Lincoln later that summer and so I did not experience the rebuilding but the memories of that afternoon remain:
- a crackly AM transistor radio, which kept cutting out
- hiding under a mattress in the basement
- uncertainty about whether Mom and Dad were safe (there was a tornado across the river from downtown Omaha)
- a Nebraska National Guard vehicle rolling down the street under martial law
It was a different time. Meteorologists worked with antique World War II aircraft radar—I later learned to read one of those units at what we called theRadio 14 KLIN. The high-def radar on my phone is a incomparably better than what we had back then. We used to strain at a crude green screen looking for a hook echo. Spotters are still important but back then they were essential. The authorities were more or less blind without them.
The sound of the tornado siren, which you can hear in the video, still raises the hairs on my arms and the back of the neck. It’s difficult not to start moving toward the basement.