July 15, 1988 | Council con hurricanes

Tornadoes are rare, averaging about 1,200 per year in the United States. Think of the thousands of storms that occur each year, only a handful of them produce tornadoes. This means that the chance of any city being hit by a tornado is very low. Sometimes, a city can get unlucky and get hit by multiple tornadoes in one day. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the “Night of the Hurricanes” on Grand Island in 1980 when a swarm of seven tornadoes struck the city.

There were other towns that were also hit by several tornadoes on the same day. It happened in Council Bluffs during the hours of 4-5 PM on July 15, 1988. At that hour, three tornadoes were moving through the city, an F-2, an F-3, and an F-1. This storm also caused widespread damage throughout Omaha, plunging 40% of the city into darkness. in this installment of This week in the history of the weatherwe look back at the “snap” storm that brought national attention to Council Bluffs.

Setup and schedule

It is sunny most of the time today, and the probability of thunderstorms in the late afternoon and evening is 20%; high about 98 degrees“Weather was the headline in the July 15 issue of the magazine Omaha World Herald. It was another July day, hot and sticky. A quick look at the weather map in the newspapers gave hope to those suffering from the heat, as a cold front was making its way east across Nebraska and would blow that evening, cooling the region for the next few days. What was missing from the forecast was the chance of thunderstorms, as meteorologists did not expect storms to break out along the cold front that afternoon.


Forecasts from the Storm Prediction Center (SPC). Neither Omaha or Council Bluffs are highlighted in the projections.

By noon, those forecasts began to change. There was a boundary running in front of the cold front, causing winds to move across it. Frontiers in meteorology are always interesting, as they can provide focal points for the development of thunderstorms. This additional wind shift provides even more Convergence Along the boundary, where the air collides together and is forced upward. This border was located directly across the Omaha metro area in the early afternoon hours.

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The updated severe weather forecast, released around noon, added a slight risk of severe weather for eastern Northeast and western IA.

At 1:40 PM, forecasters noted a thunderstorm along the Seward/Butler County line. The storm rapidly intensified and by 2:14 p.m. a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for Lancaster County. Meanwhile, a severe thunderstorm alert was issued for the Omaha metro for those storms as they intensified. At 2:58 a.m., a Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued for Douglas County and Sarpy as the storms crossed Saunders County.



On July 15, a cold front was moving east across Nebraska. The storms developed north of Lincoln and moved through metro Omaha, producing tornadoes in Council Bluffs.

By 3:30 p.m., reports of funnel clouds near Gretna and Greenwood resulted in a tornado warning being issued for Douglas and Sarpy counties. Over the next 45 minutes, the slow-moving storm crossed over Omaha, bringing high winds and the occasional funnel cloud. Despite reports of a brief tornado making landfall near downtown, no tornadoes have been confirmed in Douglas County.

At 4:11 p.m., persistent reports of funnel clouds prompted the National Weather Service to issue a tornado warning for Potawatami County, including Council Bluffs. Just a few minutes later, at 4:14, the first of three tornadoes struck the city. Hurricanes 2 and 3 followed at 4:16 and 4:19, respectively. By 4:30, the tornadoes were over.

4:15 PM – Tornado touched down in Council Bluffs at 26th Street and 1st Avenue. Subsequent reports are unclear, but all signs point to significant damage from the tornado in Council Bluffs.

National Weather Service Omaha in Severe Weather Statement.

Due to the slow-moving nature of storms, flooding is quickly becoming a concern for the metro. By 8:00 PM, the storm had moved on.

Strong winds in Omaha

While no tornadoes touched down in Douglas County, tornado-like winds swept through the city. Wind speeds were estimated at more than 90 mph, and may exceed 100 mph in some locations. At Eppley Airport, wind speeds were measured at 92 mph. This is tied for the second highest wind gust on record at the airport, with another wind gust of 92 mph on August 18, 2011; Also in first place is a tie at 96 mph between August 23, 2016 and July 10, 2021.

Although the damage was widely spread across the metro, there was a concentrated group of major damage that stretched from about I-80 and 42nd Street to the I-480 bridge crossing the Missouri River. In this half-mile-wide area, windows were blown out of buildings, roofs were partially torn off, and large trees were uprooted. Eleven people were injured in this corridor during the storm, mostly from cuts from broken glass.

Omaha wind patch.PNG


Area of ​​strengthening winds, likely in excess of 100 mph, across parts of Omaha. 11 people were injured by broken glass.

The storm did its work on Omaha’s energy infrastructure. An estimated 75,000 people were without power in Omaha. In 1988, this was approximately 40% of the population without electricity at one time or another. To date, this is the sixth largest power outage in OPPD history. If you discount winter storms, they are the fourth largest power outage. It took days for electricity to be restored to some areas.

Hurricanes in Council Bluffs


Pottawattamie County Historical Society (R.H. Fanders)

Damage to a home in Council Bluffs

Pottawattamie County Historical Society (R.H. Fanders)

The exterior walls in Council Bluffs were destroyed

The storms became hurricane-force once they crossed the Missouri River into Council Bluffs. The three tornadoes were classified as F-2, F-3 and F-1 in the order in which they touched down. The F-2 started in the Missouri River near the I-480 bridge, coming ashore at Dodge Golf Course near Harrah’s Casino. This tornado moved to the northeast into the western neighborhood of Council Bluffs, where it picked up near the intersection of 24th Street and I-29.

Council Bluffs Tornado.PNG


Location of the three tornadoes in Council Bluffs.

Pottawattamie County Historical Society (R.H. Fanders)

Many homes in the western Council Bluffs area lost their roofs to the tornadoes.

Pottawattamie County Historical Society (R.H. Fanders)

An example of one of the buildings that was completely destroyed in Council Bluffs

Tornado No. 2, the strongest of the three, touched down near 16th Street and I-29, just south of the railroad tracks. The F-3 tornado continued through other neighborhoods in the western Council Bluffs area before strengthening near Bahnsen Park.


Pottawattamie County Historical Society (R.H. Fanders)

The scene is in a neighborhood north of Council Bluffs

Pottawattamie County Historical Society (R.H. Fanders)

Damage to the church

The third hurricane, F-1, was the southernmost of the three hurricanes. This tornado began near 24th Street and I-80 and continued northeastward for three miles to the Council Bluffs business district. The tornado touched down near the intersection of Broadway and Main Street.


Pottawattamie County Historical Society (R.H. Fanders)

The house was severely damaged

Pottawattamie County Historical Society (R.H. Fanders)

The exterior wall of one house is located in front of another house that has lost its roof.

Damage to Council Bluffs was extensive. More than 1,000 homes were damaged, and 18 were completely destroyed. The courtroom lost its antenna, and part of the ceiling of the prison gymnasium was torn off. Churches were damaged, and many people were left to clean up. In Council Bluffs, 88 people were injured by the tornadoes, but fortunately no one was killed.

(Tags for translation)Council Bluffs Tornadoes 1988

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