Tornado Count from Derecho Shatters December Record in Nebraska, NWS Still Tabulating

Dec. 21, 2021, 4 p.m. ·

Street sign bent over from high winds. damaged buildings in the background
Only five tornadoes on record ran through Nebraska in December before last week's storm. The above photo shows the aftermath of Pilger hit with two violent tornadoes in 2014. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Nebraska had only ever recorded five tornadoes in the month of December, according to data that’s been collected by the National Weather Service the last 70 years. That changed when NWS confirmed 22 tornadoes touched down in Nebraska from December 15 storms.

The storms were a part of a ‘serial derecho,’ or a large band of hurricane-like thunderstorms. Forecasters say the storm’s destructive path began in central Nebraska and then moved northeast. It was the first derecho ever recorded in the month of December, according to NWS.

Brett Albright with the National Weather Service in Valley said the strongest tornadoes in Nebraska were rated EF2, which include winds up to 130 mph.

“The strongest and longest track was just to the west of Lincoln. [It] touched down between maybe Crete and Dorchester, and then it stayed on the ground continuing to the northeast and it crossed, like, Pawnee State Recreation Area,” Albright said. “We also had a shorter EF2 that went through the Columbus area. That one actually touched down in Columbus, and then dissipated on the north side of the city.”

Two additional EF2 tornadoes landed in Cumming County near the northeastern Nebraska town of West Point. The other two tornadoes in the EF2 category hit the ground near the Beaver Lake area south of Omaha.

The National Weather Service is still gathering damage reports from the public and local emergency managers. Forecasters survey reported damage areas and also determine whether a tornado touched down based on the scattering of debris.

The tornado count in Nebraska will likely fluctuate from 22 in the coming weeks as experts finalize their determinations.