An EF-1 tornado with estimated peak winds of 110 mph churned across at least 8 miles of western Iowa on Wednesday afternoon, wrecking farm outbuildings and lifting a semitrailer truck out of the eastbound lanes of Interstate 80.
“It was just picked up and thrown,” said Becky Kern, a National Weather Service meteorologist and a member of a team surveying the damage.
The tornado was part of a storm system that also brought rain, snow, hail and winds gusting up to 50 mph to Nebraska and Iowa. The system was still moving across Iowa on Wednesday night. In Omaha and elsewhere in Nebraska, high winds remained and were expected to continue into the early morning hours today.
Earlier in the day, Nebraska bore the brunt of the storm.
Midmorning, the weather service radar picked up a strong thunderstorm 25 miles north of Lincoln moving northeast at 50 mph.
The storm skirted the southern edge of the Omaha area, dropping heavy rain and half-inch-diameter hail, and it had winds exceeding 30 mph.
Near Murray in Cass County, Nebraska, 1.75-inch hail fell, and 1-inch hail fell near Unadilla in Otoe County. Hail also fell in west Omaha, covering the ground in some areas.
Snow fell across the region. Weather service meteorologist Scott Dergan estimated a half-inch to an inch of snowfall in northeastern Nebraska and western Iowa, but with temperatures above freezing. “It’s melting relatively quickly,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the weather service office in Valley issued a tornado warning for north-central Pottawattamie County and southeastern Shelby County.
About 1:55 p.m., the weather service said, a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado was located near Avoca, in northern Pottawattamie County about 40 miles northeast of Omaha.
The tornado first touched down about 2 miles west of Avoca.
It moved northeast about 45 mph, leaving scour marks in a harvested corn field. It damaged a grain bin, spreading debris in the direction of Interstate 80. Then it crossed the freeway.
Alexandru Coclenci, 30, of Orlando, Florida, was driving a 2010 Kenworth semi east on I-80 just west of the Avoca exit when winds picked up his tractor-trailer and hurled it across the Interstate. It landed in the westbound ditch and blocked a lane of traffic, the Iowa State Patrol said. Coclenci was not injured.
The tornado continued northeast into Shelby County, damaging a handful of farmsteads and outbuildings. The damage extended to an area southwest of the Harlan airport, where a wind gust was measured at 76 mph about 2:05 p.m. The weather service survey team could not find the tornado’s endpoint and plan to return to the area today.
Also in the Avoca area, hail about 1.75 inches in diameter fell, the weather service said.
The storm continued through western Iowa, prompting tornado warnings as it moved east.
Several buildings in an industrial park on the west side of Corning, Iowa, about 80 miles southeast of Omaha, were damaged by a possible tornado. “It came up like a big wind and it was over with, just that quick,” said Mike Larson of Precision Pulley & Idler. “Nobody’s hurt. That’s the best thing.”
Nearby, 1 mile north of Bridgewater, winds took the roof and most of the walls from a barn.
On Wednesday night, a mix of rain and snow fell across the Omaha area. It stuck on parked cars and some grassy areas but melted on the roadways. The snow blew through the area fairly quickly.
World-Herald photojournalists Chris Machian and Megan Smith contributed to this report.