Drought is no match for a “hurricane,” at least that was the experience Monday evening in the Nebraska Panhandle town of Sidney.
A rapidly developing storm hurled powerful winds and torrential rains at the drought-stricken town of nearly 7,000 people Monday evening, damaging homes and businesses, flooding streets and causing widespread power outages.
“We couldn't buy a drop of rain for six weeks, and it all came in a single cloud,” said Gary Person, city manager. “We were watching the cloud, it started to boil a little and then all of sudden, it took off and 'boom' a monsoon hit. It reminded me of a hurricane.”
The National Weather Service recorded 1.78 inches of rain in the area, along with a maximum wind gust of 78 mph, according to meteorologist Mike Weiland.
Person said the rain total in Sidney was hard to estimate since the rain blew in horizontally, but the in-town gauges recorded between 2 inches and 5 inches that day, with most coming during the heart of the storm. During the storm, visibility was less than 10 feet, he said.
The storm's intensity, not its damage, was what made is so remarkable, he said. An apartment building that lost its roof may have been the worst structural damage in town, Person said. The other major problem was widespread power outages. Most homes and businesses had power by noon Tuesday, but isolated outages remained late Tuesday afternoon, he said.
In the midst of the storm, volunteer firefighters had to respond to three alarms: a blown transformer, a grass fire and an air conditioner that exploded at a business. Additionally, a semitrailer truck overturned on Interstate 80 and rail cars were blown off tracks.
One of the reasons the storm was so damaging is that the winds within it reversed directions abruptly, twisting power poles, signs and trees.
“I've watched storms all my life and ... this one acted differently than anything I've ever seen,” he said. Person said cleanup was under way and would continue.
The American Red Cross has sent teams to Sidney to provide food and help to those displaced by the storm.
The World-Herald News Service contributed to this report.