june 3, 1980 grand island tornadoes

I find it rather ironic that we’re being told of the seriousness of today’s weather. Ironic because it was 34 years ago today – on a Tuesday –  that changed my Grandparent’s lives forever.


I remember Grandma talking about this home when it was brand new. I don’t know what year it was built but it was outside of the Grand Island city limits. The house still stands at 2204 South Locust in Grand Island, NE. But on the night of June 3, 1980, all future memories in that house came to a complete halt.


The clock stopped. This was the time the tornado hit the house that would no longer hold memories for me or my family. Memories. So many great memories. I can remember being small enough that I couldn’t wait to be able to look out the large picture window in the living room. I remember decorating numerous Christmas trees. I remember the smell of roast beef cooking when we walked into the house. I remembered the little dishes of cottage cheese with a pineapple ring on top with a cherry in the middle. I remember the tea parties Grandma and I had using her antique dishes (we used instant coffee, of course). I remember the numerous pancakes Grandma would fix for us in the morning. I remember everyone sitting at the dining room table and listening to Paul Harvey. I remember watching Grandma putting on her makeup and wondering when I would get to do that. I remember waking up in the morning and Grandma wasn’t there (she’d lay on the bed with me until I fell asleep) and how sad I was when I realized that she was gone. I remember coloring Easter eggs. I remember playing “button, button” on the basement steps with my brothers. I remember climbing the cherry tree and picking strawberries in the backyard. I remember playing in Grandpa’s office and thinking how cool it was. All those memories had to stop after the tornadoes on June 3, 1980.

I had just graduated from High School. Dad was in Grand Island helping Grandpa and Grandma get ready to leave for harvest. All the preparations were complete and they would be leaving the next day – on Wednesday. That never happened. The weather that moved into the Grand Island area wasn’t predicted.


A little humid perhaps, but not hot. The skies were clear, and forecasts called for only a slight chance of thunder showers — a 20 percent probability for Tuesday night.

The weather had been unstable for several days, and severe thunderstorms had been forecast over the weekend. In fact they brought almost two inches of rain in storms Saturday and Sunday. But in the words of Weather Service meteorologist George Grimm, most of the ingredients for severe weather were missing.

People were to tell later of dogs cowering in corners and whimpering all day. But science didn’t expect what happened.

When it came, it came suddenly and right overhead.

On the evening of June 3, 1980, Grand Island was hit by a storm unlike any seen before on the Great Plains of North America. The disaster wiped out whole sections of the city’s southern business district and hundreds of homes.

Since then, the event has become a book and a television movie. It has been studied by weather scientists and a special research program came to Grand Island after the storm.  

The above quote came from the website, “The Real Night of the Twisters”.  When the sirens started going off, Dad, Grandpa and Grandma headed for the basement. I don’t remember all the details like I wish I did. I wish Grandma would have written her memories down. I’m certain that Dad could remember quite a bit if he started thinking about it. They were there. I was not. I was home with the rest of the family. I’m guessing mom and my brothers hadn’t left for Grand Island yet because school wasn’t out – thank goodness! 

cubby holeThis is the small area Dad, Grandpa & Grandma took cover in. If I remember right, it was for quite a long time as the sirens just kept going and going and going.  Grandma had just been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and didn’t walk without the help of a crutch. I can picture her sitting on that chair wondering when it would be over and they could go back upstairs.

the bug eaterThe bug zapper had been sitting on the West side of the house very close to the basement window. I remember Dad telling me he looked out the window and saw the bug zapper standing so he told Grandpa and Grandma it must not have been too bad. Boy was he wrong.

Remember…they were supposed to be leaving for Oklahoma the very next day. The trailer houses were loaded and the machines were ready to head south. After it was over, the following pictures are what they saw. There were no cell phones. When Dad FINALLY got ahold of mom to let her know what had happened, we immediately packed our trailer and made our way to Grand Island as early the next day as possible. Jim even took time off of work and rode along with us to help with the clean up.


Grandpa and Grandma’s trailer

Camper 2

Crew trailerThe Crew Trailer

Looking eastLook just below the window…the bug zapper is still sitting where Dad saw it. This would be looking East. The garage was ripped from the south side of the house, leaving only a partial wall standing.

hole in wallThe hole that was left by the vicious winds. Remember the memory of the picture window? As a side note, Grandpa’s chair sat in the corner and there was a small table next to it. On that table sat my graduation picture. The chair was never found but my graduation picture was found laying right outside the hole.  The grain trucks were rounded up and used to haul away debris. The debris went to Tornado Hill. Tornado Hill is the result of all the debris left from the destruction and it still remains.

MarkA very young Mark (my brother).   

Service truck

the crewA very young me, my Grandpa, Jim and Dad’s brother, Bob. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such heat. I remember the red cross served sandwiches and pop all day long. I never got so tired of pop as I did at that time! Water was in short supply. Grandpa’s face shows just how wore out he was – both physically and mentally.

The crew 2

DadDad taking a breather in the “shade”.

Looking southThis was taken from the roof of Grandpa and Grandma’s house – looking south on South Locust Street.

Looking northSame vantage point – looking north on South Locust Street. The brown van and trailer house was home for several days. When the sun went down, the heat of the sun was gone but the humidity was atrocious. And the helicopters flew all night using their spotlights to watch for looters. It was like a war zone.


hotelOne of several hotels on South Locust.

aerial viewGrandpa and Grandma’s house is the one just to the left of the brown house that looks like it was untouched.

path of the twistersI found this in Grandma’s book. She wrote her address on the map where the house is located.


What a CRAZY sky! I borrowed this from Nebraska Weather Photos. “Looking west from the western edge of Grand Island the 
night of the tornadoes.”

building the wallThere was wheat that needed to be cut. So the cleanup continued and a wall was built. Grandpa, Grandma and I headed to Hastings to purchase two brand new trailer houses and they were loaded. As soon as the wall was built and the trailers were packed with what could be salvaged, they headed for Oklahoma. New Trailer house

New crew trailer

A custom harvester is a different breed of people. We persevere through many difficulties and continue to march on. My grandparents taught me a lot about perseverance, persistence, stubbornness and what it means to love someone! I would be willing to bet that if my Grandma were still alive, she would probably say I am a lot like her – A LOT. I thank God for the times and for the memories I had with them. They are the reason I am the way I am today.


gma's note

Matt's birthdayDad, Mark, Matt & Grandpa

Grandpa & Dad

new house

This was the house they purchased and called home until the day they both had to leave it and go to a care center. This place still holds fond memories…just not the same.

I hope the severe weather that is forecasted for today doesn’t come to be. If it does, it will mean someone will have their world turned upside down and memories could be changed for a lifetime. Grand Island doesn’t show many reminders of June 3. Grandpa and Grandma’s house is still there. It’s not a residence – it’s an office for a car lot. No wonderful memories will come from that building ever again. It’s just a building now…no longer a home.

14 comments on “june 3, 1980 grand island tornadoes

  1. Doug says:

    It’s weird how the animals know bad weather is coming. I’ll never forget the night of March 10th, 1986 (I did have to google it to get the correct date 🙂 ). Livestock all over the neighborhood was restless that night. The neighbors roosters crowed almost all night, their sheep and calves bawled all night, and my hogs were up all night banging lids and grunting. It was very unsettling to say the least! The next day, my sister and I had just gotten home from school, both our parents were at work, I would have been 16, her 15, when a storm hit, and we heard one of the scariest roars I’ve ever heard to date. It sounded like it was directly over the house and comparing it to a freight train wouldn’t have been far off. About 30 minutes later we learned that the same storm dropped a tornado on the town of Lynn Indiana just maybe 12 miles north east of our farm and did some really serious damage. The animals knew something was coming, just like the dogs you wrote about.

    • Nebraska Wheatie says:

      So, maybe what we should start doing is paying more attention to the animals and maybe not so much importance on the weatherman 🙂

      We were fortunate with the storms last night. Those in parts of Omaha and further north weren’t so lucky. I’m certain they’re dealing with cleanup mode today. At least it’s not as hot as it was 34 years ago on the day after.

      Thanks for sharing your memories, Doug!

  2. Ethan Fischer says:

    It’s sad to see all that damage but it’s tough times like that that make people stronger. Were the combines damaged bad? Reading this reminds me of Walt loosing all his machinery to a tornado in the movie “Race Against the Harvest”, and I believe he was in Nebraska at the time as well. It also reminds me of Hank and his family suffering through the tornado in 2011 though his family didn’t fare so well.

    Glad to hear you didn’t have bad damage last night from the storms.

    • Nebraska Wheatie says:

      No, the combines were parked in an area of Grand Island that wasn’t in the path of the storm. They were lucky that way. I remember that movie. 🙂

      And…I can’t even imagine going through what the Hamil family went through and I’m certain continue to deal with. That story just broke my heart!

      • Ethan Fischer says:

        It broke my heart too. When I was first given Hank’s name I searched him online but the only thing I could find was the news story of loosing his two boys. At that point I knew they were some extroindary people and there would be a lot I could learn from them.

        • Nebraska Wheatie says:

          They’re GOOD people! Strong faith. Now…weren’t you going to go on harvest with them? Did you?

  3. Ethan Fischer says:

    Yes I am going with them. I just got back home today from DC and head out tomorrow to meet up with them.

    • Nebraska Wheatie says:

      What did you do in DC? You’ll have to let me know what you’re up to and how you’re doing and if it’s all you thought it would be. I feel like your mom – sorry! Just anxious to hear how it goes. I’m glad you’re going with them and I wish you all the luck in the world!

      • Ethan Fischer says:

        I went on a youth tour sponsored by the Foundation for Rural Services and by my local telephone cooperative. This is done every year with telephone cooperatives sending 1 or 2 youth to DC for a week. There was 105 of us from across the nation and our time was spent touring the major national monuments as well as some educational classes on the world of telecommunications. It was great getting to meet so many people from across the nation.

        And thank you!! I’m super anxious to get started! Hopefully we can actually meet somewhere along the trail this summer 🙂

        • Nebraska Wheatie says:

          Sounds like a great experience…a lot of kids! You guys are the next generation of leaders and I appreciate that you did something like that.

          Hopefully – we usually see Hank’s vehicles in the Garden City, KS area. Not sure what’s going to happen for us this year – even there.

  4. Jan says:

    I’m reading this as Tornados flattened a few Illinois towns as well as a huge swatch along your path! It is helpful to see the rebuilding they did! I grew up in North West Kansas (Colby) but am now in Virginia! Thanks for linking this up at Country Fair Blog Party!

    • Nebraska Wheatie says:

      I can remember that day as if it were yesterday. Thanks for reading it and for leaving me a note. I have a great harvest friend in Colby.

  5. Judy Ruff says:

    I was living in Grand island at that time and was stuck in west GI until the twisters quit wind was still a problem as i was waiting for a train in water running board deep when the front end of my car came off the ground. I lived on east 7th st. but I had to get home cause my dog was chained up outside and both me and my dog were scared to death. She was alright thank God. A very scarey time. Lot of memories. Judy Ruff. Great story. judyruff49@gmail.com.

    • Nebraska Wheatie says:

      Thanks for sharing your story. One that you’ll NEVER forget! It sure doesn’t seem like it’s been 37 years ago. I’m glad you enjoyed my memory of at “event”!

Comments are closed.