Omaha Tornado – Nebraska – March 23, 1913

This tornado took the lives of ninety-six people, destroyed six hundred homes, and damaged more than 1,100 others.

On the evening of Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913, a tornado storm of multiple parts passed through Nebraska and hit Omaha. It was close to a half mile wide and it stretched back as far as forty miles. This storm marked the darkest day in Nebraska’s history as far as weather extremes are concerned. It started in Sarpy County, ripping its way northeast through Ralston, where seven people were killed. The twister then cut across Omaha and killed ninety-six people, destroyed six hundred homes, and damaged more than 1,100 others.

The tornado followed the path of Little Papillion Creek as it entered the city before moving through the west side of town alongside the Missouri Pacific Railroad, destroying the small workers’ cottages in that area. This storm was so strong that steel train cars were pierced by pieces of shattered lumber from the demolished homes.

Easter Sunday began under cloudy skies in Omaha in1913. Rain threatened but never fell on the city, and by noon the skies had brightened to the point where the sun began to peek through. In the afternoon the skies darkened again as a massive storm system moved into the area from western Nebraska. At 5:45 P.M. the tornado touched down near Kramer, and then raced northeast to reach the outskirts of Omaha by 6 P.M. By the time the funnel cloud reached Dewey Avenue it was five blocks wide. When it reached Farnham Hill it followed a shallow valley through this upscale neighborhood. Even the large mansions of Farnham were unable to cope with the winds and many houses were torn to pieces. Others were later found chopped in half, pipes and supports dangling in space.

At 24th and Lake Streets a large crowd was enjoying a show at the Diamond Moving Picture Theater. The tornado flattened the building. Other brick structures in this small commercial district took similar hits, and this became the place where most of the casualties occurred. A streetcar running down 24th Street encountered the tornado near this area. Thanks to the quick actions of the streetcar’s operator, every passenger survived. Later, people who saw the wrecked streetcar called it the streetcar of death because they were sure that no one had survived, given the immense amount of damage it had sustained.

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