Town Destroyed -- National Weather Service Misses Another Strong Tornado

Photo from Grant County Sheriff, Michael Rath

The tiny town of Whitman, Nebraska is in ruins today after being struck by a tornado yesterday evening. Incredibly, the National Weather Service did not issue a tornado warning until after the town was destroyed, in spite of storm chasers and others calling to tell them a tornado was in progress.

Damage photos by Jeremy Holthus

While there were earlier radar indications to issue a tornado warning, the radar clearly showed a tornado threat at 7:33pm MDT (all times Mountain).  Per the Sheriff's press release, it appears the tornado touched down about 7:30pm.  Addition -please see the comment at the bottom of this piece. 

At 7:41pm, a distinct hook echo (circled) formed on a rotating supercell that was moving south southeast. Had I been working the warning desk at WeatherData, Inc., unquestionably I would have issued a warning at this point, regardless of whether I had yet heard from chasers in the field. The radar map does not display "Whitman" but it is very close to the symbol for Highway 2. 

At 7:52, the radar was depicting lofted debris. Unquestionably, a tornado was in progress. 
The tornado was nearly to Whitman, but no tornado warning was in effect! There were chasers writing on Twitter (I saw the tweets "live" while the storm in progress) that they were informing the NWS office in North Platte that a tornado was in progress and were astonished no warning was issued. 

At 7:57, the town is being struck and the size and density of the lofted debris enlarges. 

At the same time, the reflectivity radar data (the type you see on TV) indicates the tornado is so strong it is creating a "hole" where raindrops, hail and debris are being flung out of the rotation. 

At 8pm, only after the area was struck, did NWS issued its first tornado warning of the day. 

Below is one of the reactions from storm chasers. It is one of the printable reactions as this is a family blog. A number are upset that their calls to issue a tornado warning went unheeded. The reference is to the NWS outage (see my story, here), which has gone on for 46 hours at this point, is only being trouble-shooted on a 9-5 basis per a message the NWS in College Park issued this morning. 

As the NWS in North Platte had telephone confirmation of the tornado, per the reports from several chasers, and they could see the data from their own radar, there was no reason at all the outage would have prevented a warning. 
I often write about how "another Joplin Tornado is inevitable" unless major changes are made. This exactly how it could happen. An obviously strong tornado on the ground for nearly a half-hour before a warning is issued. 

The United States desperately needs a National Disaster Review Board to review dangerous fiascos of this nature to assist the NWS in fixing these life-threatening issues. 

There is a Part II to this storm. Please go here


  1. Mike, great write up as usual. A quick comment, while the Grant County Sheriff's facebook page is private, a screenshot of it has been circulating stating that Whitman only received minor damage, with 2 ranch homes outside of town getting completely destroyed, along with 2 of 3 communications towers in the county. Thankfully according to the Sheriff, there was only 1 minor injury. Based on radar, it looks the core narrowly missed Whitman to the east. This would make sense based on the lack of coverage with local media.

    1. Mike Smith here: Thank you for the information.


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