Wednesday, July 23, 2014
   
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North Platte tornadoes too close for comfort

Matt Wilson climbs into locomotive at Bailey Yard

Matt Wilson of rural Gothenburg spent a few moments Sunday night in a locomotive at Bailey Yard in North Platte as a twister slammed into the world’s largest railroad classification yard.

“The sirens went off and they told us to get in the locomotives sitting in the yard,” said 51-year-old Wilson, who is a car inspector for Union Pacific Railroad.

Interestingly, he said the 420,000-pound locomotive is considered one of the safest places to be in a rail yard.

News reports say at least two tornadoes hit the city, between 9 and 9:30 p.m., injuring at least two people and damaging homes, buildings and power lines.

Wilson said a UP employee, who was in a building the tornado struck, hurt his back.

Another injury was to the driver of a semi-tractor trailer who has connections to Jensen Trucking Co. Inc. in Gothenburg.

Owner Joyce Hudson said 41-year-old Kirk Gawith leases his trailer from her trucking firm.

Hudson said the tornado picked up the moving, eastbound semi, east of Sutherland, and dropped it on the north side of Interstate 80.

“It was twisted into pieces,” she said, noting that Gawith, who lives in Bushnell, received cuts and bruises and was taken to Great Plains Medical Center where he was released Tuesday.

The tractor, and refrigerator trailer, were totalled, she said.

In the 38 years Jensen has been involved in Jensen Trucking, she said nothing like it has ever happened.

“And some strange things have happened,” she said.

Wilson said his car, in a parking lot with other vehicles, was also destroyed.

“The windows were blown out,” he said. “Cars were squished together and flipped.”

While taking shelter in the locomotive, Wilson said he didn’t see or hear the twister but that others did.

“Some of the guys said they could see it in lightning strikes,” he said.

After Wilson and other employees emerged from places of safety, he said officials wouldn’t let them near the damage on the west part of the yard.

“It took some buildings and cars were derailed,” he said.

Still, most of the yard was back in business Monday when Wilson returned.

He got a ride with another employee to Maxwell, after the tornado, where son Ben Wilson picked him up.

Fortunately, there were no fatalities from the North Platte tornadoes nor when the first tornado of 2012, in Nebraska, struck a field southwest of Stapleton on Feb. 28.

That twister was the first reported in Nebraska in February since tracking began in 1950.

National Weather Service officials say the tornadoes are a reminder that residents should be aware of severe weather and know what to do.

Nebraska Severe Weather Awareness Week is March 19-23.

NWS officials in the Hastings office describe rating a tornado as both an art and science.

Ratings are rooted in the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale (see table).

NWS meteorologists base the rating on the damage done by the tornado to various structures.

Based on structural tests, a wind speed estimate can be made from the degree of damage done (superficial, devastation, etc.)

NWS officials said they hope residents get out and enjoy spring but keep an eye on the sky.

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