A deadly tornado hit Omaha 35 years ago today. The twister left a ten-mile path of destruction through the city’s heart, killing three people and injuring more than 200. A moment of silence will be held at 4:14 this afternoon during a reception to mark the anniversary.
George Matuella was working radar for the National Weather Service that day and recalls it was a very foggy, humid morning. Matuella says, “I can remember my old boss came in and said ‘oh boy, we could be in for a corker’, and sure enough, he was right.” Matuella says he was keeping a close eye on the radar scope that afternoon in 1975.
“I saw a signature on the radar that indicated a possible tornado,” Matuella says. “I looked it over a couple of times and I told the boss and he said ‘go with it’ and we sent the tornado warning out.” That warning was issued at 4:14 P.M. Matuella said that was a good call as a spotter watching the skies over Omaha saw the deadly twister taking shape.
“Then Mr. Jim Tracy, who was a spotter, approximately at the same time, saw the funnel cloud develop and it hit the ground.” The tornado targeted 72 Street, a major corridor within the city. It first touched down in southwest Omaha and traveled north and lifted near Benson Park. More than 1,600 homes and dozens of businesses were damaged or destroyed, as well as two schools.
Matuella says, “I think the government officials estimated when it was going up 72nd Street, there was between 30 and 35,000 people in the path of that tornado at one time.” Causing millions of dollars damage, it remains one of the costliest tornadoes in U.S. history.
Today’s reception is being held at the Omaha office of Together Incorporated. That group was formed by several Omaha churches in 1975 to help coordinate a charitable response to the storm. The nonprofit continued on after the storm to help people who were struggling to afford the basic necessities of life — and it’s still a staple in Omaha today.