Late-May 2008 tornado outbreak sequence

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Late May 2008 tornado outbreak sequence
May 22 2008 Kansas tornado.jpg
A tornado in Kansas on May 22, 2008
Date(s) May 22–31, 2008
Duration ~9 days
Tornadoes caused 235 confirmed
Maximum rated tornado EF5 (Enhanced Fujita Scale)
Highest winds 205 mph (330 km/h) (Parkersburg, IA EF5 tornado on May 25)
Damages $343 million
Casualties 12 + 1 non-tornadic

The Late May 2008 tornado outbreak sequence was a series of tornado outbreaks affecting the central plains of the United States since May 22, 2008. Over 250 tornadoes were reported across many states and two Canadian provinces from Wyoming to Ohio and from Manitoba to Texas, of which at least 235 were confirmed. One person was killed when a tornado struck portions of Weld County, Colorado, and two more deaths were reported in Pratt County, Kansas. One person was also killed near Hugo, Minnesota on May 25 and nine were killed from an EF5 tornado that destroyed most of Parkersburg, Iowa and some of New Hartford, Iowa (located near Waterloo, Iowa).[1] Another death, caused by lightning related to the storms, took place in central Kansas.[2]

Meteorological synopsis[edit]

National Weather Service doppler radar (Velocity - Storm Relative Motion) image at 1735 UTC showing tornado-producing supercell thunderstorm near Windsor, Colorado. (NWS Colorado/Boulder)

On May 22, a low pressure system developed across the Rocky Mountains, with a warm front stretching across the central Plains and a trough stretching north towards Alberta and eastern British Columbia. A moderate risk had already been issued for portions of northern Kansas on May 21, and was upgraded into a high risk during the afternoon of May 22. It was the first high risk outlook in Kansas since May 5, 2007, one day after an EF5 tornado hit Greensburg, Kansas.

Severe thunderstorm and tornado watches extended from eastern Wyoming into northern Kansas early on May 22. Just before noon, a mile-wide (1.6 km) tornado was reported near Greeley, Colorado which is about one hour north of Denver. It moved northwest, an unusual path for tornadoes. It struck the town of Windsor, causing extensive damage to some buildings, although lesser damage was reported to some homes according to some video footage. One person was killed at the Missile Silo Campground near Greeley. Another tornado struck the city of Laramie, Wyoming causing some damage to some roofs of businesses and tossing trucks across Interstate 80.[3]

Numerous tornadoes were reported across northern Kansas, however damage was limited due to the sparsely populated areas it affected. Another intense storm traveled across northern Oklahoma during the evening hours. At least 45 tornadoes were reported across the region on May 22.[4]

On May 23, thunderstorms fired up across much of the same areas, where a moderate risk of severe storms was issued for northern Kansas. Tornado watches stretched from Wyoming into Oklahoma.[5] Supercells were reported across northern Kansas and Colorado as well as southern Kansas were an intense supercell was traveling near the areas hit by powerful tornadoes on May 4–5, 2007. An EF4 tornado affected Quinter, and other tornadoes hit the towns of Ellis and Protection. Greensburg, still in the rebuilding process from the EF5 tornado that affected the town more than one year prior, narrowly missed getting struck again. Homes and trailers were also reported destroyed in Pratt and Lane Counties. There were 55 tornadoes confirmed in the Dodge City warning area alone and over 80 tornadoes confirmed that day and night, with two deaths reported in Pratt County and at least five people were injured in Kansas alone with the most across Stafford County.[6][7][8]

On May 24, a slight risk was issued for much of the Missouri River corridor as well as areas along Interstate 35 from Kansas City to Oklahoma City and later into portions of northern Texas. Tornado watches were issued from Minnesota (at the Canadian border) to Oklahoma with a severe thunderstorm watch in parts of Texas.[9][10][11] One thunderstorm produced several tornadoes across Kingfisher and Garfield Counties south of Enid. Most tornadoes were caught on tape by a helicopter reporter for KWTV-TV in Oklahoma City which was also repeatedly broadcast on CNN. One of the tornadoes captured live on CNN and KWTV destroyed a hog farm. None of the employees who worked at the farm were injured, although a few pigs inside the structures were hurt. However, none of the pigs were found dead.[12][13][14][15] Tornadoes were also reported across the Dakotas during the evening hours for a total of 13 reports throughout the day.[16]

EF5 tornado damage in Parkersburg, Iowa

On May 25, notices for moderate risk of severe weather were issued for northern Kansas, southern Nebraska, eastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa, and western Wisconsin with a slight risk from Texas to northwestern Ontario. Watches extended along all the corridor and storms developed in four different areas including and northern Texas, northern Kansas, central Minnesota and Iowa and southern Manitoba. One particularly violent tornado touched down and struck the Iowa town of Parkersburg, and the northern side of New Hartford. This long track tornado also destroyed homes near Dunkerton and near the Waterloo Municipal Airport. That tornado killed nine people and was later rated an EF5, the first since the Greensburg, Kansas tornado. According to the SPC Storm Reports, 50 tornadoes have been reported throughout the day.

At 4:55 pm, an EF3 tornado touched down in Lino Lakes, a northern suburb of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The tornado then moved into Hugo where it caused major damage.[17] Around 50 houses were destroyed and 150 damaged in Creek View Preserve and Water's Edge neighborhoods of Hugo, and 500 homes were damaged in total. A two-year-old child was killed and nine people were seriously injured.

A moderate risk of severe weather was issued for central Kansas from the same storm system for May 26 while a large slight risk area was issued by the SPC from Texas to southern Quebec and Ontario,[18] while Environment Canada issued a slight risk for severe weather for southwestern Ontario. The moderate risk in Kansas was a bust as the severe weather was limited to just a few tornadoes across western Texas and central Kansas.[19] Meanwhile, only isolated strong thunderstorms across southern and eastern Ontario during the evening hours while very limited activity across the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions. However two weak tornadoes were later confirmed north of Sudbury and North Bay. Minimal severe activity was reported on May 27 and May 28.[20][21]

Damage to the Kearney, Nebraska airport on May 29, 2008

On May 29, the SPC issued a high risk of severe weather across eastern Nebraska and western Iowa including the Omaha, Nebraska metropolitan, with a moderate risk affecting southern Minnesota, much of central Iowa including Des Moines, northern Kansas and southern South Dakota.[22] At least 20 tornadoes were reported including three that struck the city of Kearney, causing damage at the University of Nebraska campus in Kearney as well as the Buffalo County Fairgrounds, the Kearney Regional Airport, businesses and homes.[23][24] Part of Interstate 80 near Aurora, Nebraska was closed due to downed power lines from a tornado.[25] Another tornado caused major damage in the town of Jewell, Kansas particularly on the south side of the town where it was reported that a large tornado was on ground in Jewell County. Significant damage was also reported in Republic County in Kansas and in Jefferson County in Nebraska. Tornadoes continued throughout the overnight hours across Iowa where 10 people were injured from an EF2 tornado. There were no immediate reports of fatalities directly associated from tornadoes.[26]

For May 30, the SPC issued a moderate risk of severe weather for northern and central Illinois, southeastern Michigan, northern Indiana and northeastern Missouri. Tornadoes were reported near Springfield, Illinois although the heaviest damage was reported across northwestern Ohio where some homes were destroyed in Putnam and Seneca Counties. People were reportedly being trapped inside damage structures although there were no reports of fatalities.[27][28]

For May 31, a moderate risk was issued for portions of the Middle Atlantic states including portions of the Interstate 95 from Virginia to New York City. Further southwest along the front, a moderate risk was issued for areas along the Kansas-Oklahoma state line. Activity was mostly limited to hail and damaging wind events although a few tornadoes were reported.[29][30]

Reported tornadoes[edit]

Note: three tornadoes in Canada were rated according to the old Fujita scale, but are included in the chart below using their number rated.

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
EF0 EF1 EF2 EF3 EF4 EF5 Total
141 61 20 11 1 1 235
Confirmed and unconfirmed tornadoes by day and state
May 22 1 3 16 1 21
May 23 5 4 70 3 1 83
May 24 10 7 6 23
May 25 12 4 5 1 7 2 1 1 33
May 26 4 3 2 9
May 27 3 1 1 5
May 28 1 3 4
May 29 2 10 4 8 12 36
May 30 3 5 6 2 2 18
May 31 1 1 1 3
Total 6 9 114 14 7 10 10 7 3 18 2 7 7 3 14 2 2 1 1 1 235

Windsor, Colorado tornado[edit]

Just before noon on May 22, a mile-wide tornado was reported near Greeley, Colorado which is about one hour north of Denver. The tornado was caught on tape and golfball size hail accompanied the storm as it traveled near Interstate 25. It moved into an unusual path towards the northwest and struck the town of Windsor causing extensive damage to some buildings although lesser damage was reported to some homes according to some video footage. One person was reported killed at the Missile Silo Campground near Greeley.

About 100 homes were destroyed or damaged beyond repair with about another 500 homes suffering other forms of damage. Businesses were also damaged and trailers overturned. The tornado also caused damage to the Windmill Daycare Center where about 150 children were located but none were injured as they took cover from the storm which blew most windows of the building.[31][32] The Weld County tornado was the first killer and EF3 tornado in Colorado since an EF3 hit Holly in Kiowa County near the Kansas state line. That tornado killed two as part of a similar outbreak on March 28, 2007.[33] It was estimated that the May 22 storms were the state's fourth costliest disaster ever with $147 million in estimated insured damage.[34]

Parkersburg-New Hartford, Iowa Tornado[edit]

National Weather Service doppler radar showing a hook echo near Parkersburg, Iowa.

A strong supercell developed in northeast Iowa, west of Waterloo in the late afternoon of May 25, 2008. The first tornado warning of the cell was issued at 4:22 pm CDT (2122 UTC) for the Parkersburg area, The first tornado from this cell was reported near Aplington in Butler County at 4:48 pm CDT. It then tracked toward Parkersburg, intensifying to EF5 strength before slamming into the southern part of the community just before 5:00 pm CDT. Many homes and businesses were completely leveled there. Several of the destroyed homes were well-built, and cleanly swept from their foundations. 7 people died in Parkersburg, several of which were taking shelter in basements. However, the tornado was violent enough that it ripped away the floors above that were anchored to the foundations, leaving the victims in the basement exposed. At some residences, the anchor bolts themselves were pulled out of the foundation perimeter.[35] A rebar anchor was found snapped in half at one home, and shrubs were uprooted and stripped in some areas.[36] A large industrial building was completely destroyed, with steel girders twisted and broken, and most of the foundation swept clean of debris. At that time, the tornado was estimated to be about 7/10 mile (1.1 km) wide. On the east side of Parkersburg, the tornado struck a golf course and a newly built subdivision. Multiple homes were swept away at that location, two of which had no debris left within 200 yards of the foundations. One of the two homes was very well-built. At one house that was swept away, a thick, poured concrete wall that was part of a walk-out basement cracked at the base and was pushed over. The concrete basement floor of that home was cracked as well. Structural debris from the town and golf course subdivision was finely granulated into small pieces, many no larger than coins.[37][38]

After passing through Parkersburg, the tornado continued eastward toward New Hartford, impacting a housing development on the northern side of the community at 5:09 pm CDT. Multiple well-built homes with anchor bolts were completely swept away, and debris was again finely granulated into small wood chips. Trees were completely debarked, low-lying vegetation was shredded, and vehicles were thrown and mangled beyond recognition. Intense cycloidal scouring occurred in farm fields, and wet topsoil and corn stubble was removed and plastered against structures, fences, and utility poles.[39] The tornado then passed just north of Waterloo and Cedar Falls and shrunk to about 1/4 mile (400 m) in width as it continued to impact rural areas. The tornado was weaker at this point, and damage ranged mostly from EF2 to EF3 along the rest of the track.[37] As the tornado approached Dunkerton, it turned to the east-northeast and grew to 1.2 miles (2 km) wide. Farms were badly damaged in this area. Shortly before reaching Fairbank, the tornado dissipated, at which point it was replaced by a second tornado, about a mile and a half south of Fairbank. This second EF3 tornado struck the community of Hazleton, where homes and mobile homes were destroyed.[37]

Catastrophic tornado damage in New Hartford, Iowa caused by the EF5 tornado.

Catastrophic damage occurred in Parkersburg as much of the town was destroyed. Seven people were killed in Parkersburg and two were killed in New Hartford, where the housing development was destroyed. 288 homes in Parkersburg, 88 in New Hartford were damaged or destroyed. A final assessment determined that the tornado was an EF5 with estimated peak winds of about 205 miles per hour (330 km/h).[40] According to FEMA and the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, damage was preliminary estimated at around $6 million in northern Iowa including more than $3 million in Butler County alone.[41] While the tornado was caught on tape and photographed by spotters, a surveillance camera inside a bank in Parkersburg also caught the tornado on tape as the storm passed over the building.[42] Another surveillance camera shows the tornado ripping the roof of a home across a street before the video was lost.[43]

Image of the Parkersburg tornado after it struck the town (NWS Des Moines)
Tornado damaged house on the corner of Main Street and 3rd Street (hence the sign) in Parkersburg, Iowa, one week after the EF5 tornado hit the town

After the tornado, Governor Chet Culver declared Butler and Black Hawk counties disaster areas due to the extensive storm damage.[44] The tornado was the first F5 or EF5 tornado in Iowa since one hit Jordan on June 13, 1976 and the second deadliest in Iowa since official record-keeping began in 1950.[37] The deadliest tornado affected the Charles City area on May 15, 1968 and killed 13 while producing F5 damage.[45]

On May 29, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported that lightweight debris from the Waterloo area, including photographs, check stubs, and "greeting cards and business records" from a Waterloo Walgreens, had been found in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, over 100 miles (160 km) away.[46]

Minnesota tornadoes[edit]

Damage to homes from the EF3 tornado in Hugo, Minnesota.

Three tornado touchdowns were confirmed in the northern suburbs of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area on May 25. The first tornado touched down in heavily populated Coon Rapids, and was rated EF1. It toppled trees and caused damage to several roofs in Coon Rapids before lifting off the ground 6 miles (10 km) later in Blaine.

A second, more powerful tornado touched down at 4:55 pm in Lino Lakes. It caused some minor damage to some structures before it strengthened to an EF3 as it crossed into Washington County and into the town of Hugo.[17] Around 50 houses were destroyed and 150 damaged in Creek View Preserve and Water's Edge neighborhoods of Hugo. A two-year-old child was killed when he was thrown from his house, and his sister and parents were among nine people who were seriously injured. This was the first tornado fatality in Minnesota since September 16, 2006.[47] Following the tornado up to 400 homes were evacuated because of downed power lines and gas leaks, and authorities went door to door to search for more injured.[48] Up to 20 people had initially been unaccounted for, but all were located by later that night.[17] A 62 year old woman died four days after the tornado when she suffered a heart attack while clearing debris from her yard. Her house was severely damaged by the tornado, and she had been treated for injuries immediately afterwards.[49] Extensive damage occurred during this storm from hail up to the size of baseballs north of the Twin Cities. Up to 15,000 people lost power.

Non-tornadic events[edit]

Heavy rains fell throughout much of the weekend across southern Alberta with local areas reporting as much as 8 inches (203 mm) according to the Weather Network. Severals rivers experienced rapid rise of the water levels including the Elbow River which threatened to overflow near the Calgary area. Several areas across the province were under flood warnings.[50]

On May 29–30, Ames, Iowa, was soaked with between 4 and 5 inches (130 mm) of rain on already-saturated soil, leading to much of south Ames and the campus of Iowa State University being submerged under several feet of water, and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people. Floodwaters also closed down two major highways: U.S. Route 30 and U.S. Route 69. Longtime Ames residents said that the flooding was the worst to hit Ames since the Great Flood of 1993.[51]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "F5/EF5 Tornadoes in Iowa". National Weather Service. 2009-05-13. 
  2. ^ "Three people die from Friday night/Saturday morning storms in Kansas". KSNW. 2008-05-25. 
  3. ^ "Tornado kills 1, rips apart buildings in Colorado". CNN. 2008-05-22. 
  4. ^ "SPC Storm Reports for 05/22/08". National Weather Service. 2008-06-01. 
  5. ^ "May 23, 2008 1630 UTC Day 1 Convective Outlook". National Weather Service. 2008-05-23. 
  6. ^ "Storms in Iowa, Minn. bring heartbreak, grief". MSNBC. 2008-05-26. 
  7. ^ "Tornadoes Swarm Western Kansas Friday". KAKE-TV. 2008-05-26. 
  8. ^ "SPC Storm Reports for 05/23/08". National Weather Service. 2008-06-02. 
  9. ^ "Severe Thunderstorm Watch 351". National Weather Service. 
  10. ^ "Severe Thunderstorm Watch 353". National Weather Service. 
  11. ^ "Tornado Watch 354". National Weather Service. 
  12. ^ "Tornado levels pig farm". KWTV. 2008-05-24. 
  13. ^ Dean, Bryan; M. Kimball (2008-05-25). "8 twisters: big storms, small toll". The Oklahoman. 
  14. ^ "Tornadoes tear through Kansas, Oklahoma; Colorado cleans up". CNN. 2008-05-24. [dead link]
  15. ^ Sit, Jacqueline (2008-05-26). "Congregation plans to rebuild". KWTV. 
  16. ^ "SPC Storm Reports for 05/24/08". National Weather Service. 2008-06-02. 
  17. ^ a b c Freed, Joshua (2008-05-25). "One child killed, eight injured as major storm hits Hugo". Minnesota Public Radio. 
  18. ^ "May 26, 2008 1630 UTC Day 1 Convective Outlook". National Weather Service. 2008-05-26. 
  19. ^ "SPC Storm Reports for 05/26/08". National Weather Service. 2008-06-02. 
  20. ^ "SPC Storm Reports for 05/27/08". National Weather Service. 2008-06-02. 
  21. ^ "SPC Storm Reports for 05/28/08". National Weather Service. 2008-06-02. 
  22. ^ "May 29, 2008 1300 UTC Day 1 Convective Outlook". National Weather Service. 2008-05-29. 
  23. ^ Murphy, Carrie; K. Sarantos Niver and M. Barmann (2008-05-31). "NPPD Hurries to Restore Power in Kearney". KMTV. 
  24. ^ "Tornados Confirmed in the Kearney Area". National Weather Service. 2008-05-31. 
  25. ^ "Section of I-80 closed, crews assess Kearney damage". KHAS-TV. 2008-05-29. 
  26. ^ "Tornadoes, Severe Thunderstorms, and Flooding Thursday Night 5/29-5/30". National Weather Service. 
  27. ^ "SPC Storm Reports for 05/30/08". National Weather Service. 2008-06-02. 
  28. ^ "May 29, 2008 1730 UTC Day 2 Convective Outlook". National Weather Service. 2008-05-29. 
  29. ^ "SPC Storm Reports for 05/31/08". National Weather Service. 2008-06-02. 
  30. ^ "May 31, 2008 1300 UTC Day 1 Convective Outlook". National Weather Service. 2008-05-31. 
  31. ^ Hooker, Mike (2008-05-28). "Windsor Day Care Back Open Just Days After Twister". KCNC-TV. 
  32. ^ Wolf, Jeffrey; D. Boniface; S. Patrick; C. Locke. "Residents allowed back into homes". KUSA-TV. 
  33. ^ "Colorado tornado kills at least one". KSNW. 2008-05-22. 
  34. ^ Slater, Jane (2008-05-28). "Thursday's Tornado State's 4th Costliest Disaster". KMGH. 
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ a b c d "Parkersburg Tornado Rated EF5". National Weather Service. 2008-06-01. 
  38. ^ "Details of the Parkersburg Storm Damage Survey". Des Moines, Iowa: National Weather Service. Retrieved September 8, 2013. 
  39. ^
  40. ^ "Parkersburg Tornado Rated EF5 (Updated June 1st)". National Weather Service. 2006-06-01. 
  41. ^ "Iowa Tornado Damage Tops $6 Million". WOWT. 2008-05-30. 
  42. ^ "Surveillance video from a bank showing tornado in Parkersburg". CNN. 
  43. ^ "Surveillance camera showing tornado ripping off a roof". KMBC-TV. 
  44. ^ "Black Hawk and Butler Disaster Areas". KCGR-TV. 2008-05-26. 
  45. ^ "Tornado History Project Database". Tornado History Project. 
  46. ^ "Debris found in Wis. more than 100 miles (160 km) from Iowa tornado". 2008-06-05. 
  47. ^ "Minnesota Tornado History and Statistics". Minnesota Climatology Working Group. 
  48. ^ "Victims identified in Hugo storm". KSTP-TV. 2008-05-28. 
  49. ^ Lauritsen, John (2008-05-30). "Heart Attack Kills Woman During Tornado Cleanup". WCCO-TV. 
  50. ^ "Southern Alberta on flood watch as rivers swell". CTV. 2008-05-25. 
  51. ^ "Floodwaters Drop In Ames, Continue Rise To South". KCCI. 2008-05-30. 

External links[edit]