Yutan-Ashland, NE F4 Tornado – August 13, 1952

SPC Stats:

Path length: 26.7 miles

Width:  110 yards

Fatalities:  0

Injuries:  20

Rating:  F4

Counties:  Saunders, Cass

What happened August 13, 1952 in Saunders and Cass Counties, NE?  Well, once again I had to do a little detective work to find clues and draw some conclusions.  There were several discrepancies.  My sources were:  The Storm Prediction Center (SPC), the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCDC), the August 1952 Climatological Data National Summary (CDNS), Significant Tornadoes by Thomas Grazulis and a myriad of newspaper articles from newspapers.com.

Officially, the SPC lists 2 tornadoes on this day, both in Nebraska.  One was given a rating of F3 in Colfax and Butler counties.  The other was given a rating of F4 in Saunders and Cass Counties.  This F4 is the focus of this summary.

You see in blue in the upper left all of the SPC stats.  The NCDC has matching stats.  The CDNS entry, unfortunately is incomplete.  There is no summary of detail of what happened.  It only lists the following:

  • The location is "Northeastern Saunders and Northeastern Cass Counties, Nebr."
  • Time is 6pm
  • Width is 110-220 yards
  • Path length is 30 miles
  • There were 0 fatalities and 20 injuries
  • Property loss:  88,500
  • Crop loss:  335,000
  • Character of Storm:  Tornado and Hail
  • Link to this publication is found here

In his entry in book Significant Tornadoes, Thomas Grazulis has the counties of this event in Saunders and Douglas.  He has a 20 mile path and width of 220 yards.

So, our main discrepancy is where did this tornado travel and ultimately where?

Here is a zoomed in look at the counties we are looking at for this event:  Everyone agrees on the tornado moving through parts of Saunders County.  Grazulis though has a movement ENE into Douglas County while the remaining sources list Cass County, so more a SE movement.  The CDNS has "Northeastern Saunders and Northeastern Cass Counties, Nebr." - This makes things a bit more muddy.  If you draw an imaginary line from NE Saunders to NE Cass, you could say Sarpy County should be included in on the path.  Or perhaps CDNS was saying we have a skipping path from parts of NE Saunders County and then into parts of Cass County?  This may never be known.

 

 

Since there is no narrative in CDNS, we have to draw details about what happened from Grazulis and newspaper articles.

Grazulis states the tornado moved ENE from 5 miles SW of Wahoo, passing 2 miles South of Yutan.  Those are the only 2 cities listed in his narrative.  He states, "at least 15 farms lost buildings and two of them were completely leveled, homes and all."  Property loss listed at $100,000.

I quickly created a map showing approximately what Grazulis path looks like.  It is a general look and not exact.  His path would go through Saunders and Douglas Counties.

Here is the official plot of the SPC Coordinates using our Tornado Talk Map Maker.  This path moves SE from east of Wahoo and west of Yutan through Ashland and ending SW of Louisville.  The counties included would be Saunders and Cass only.

SO, are you intrigued on what exactly happened?  I am too!  Since we still have limited information on what towns had damage from SPC, NCDC, Grazulis and CDNS, I went to the newspapers.

First, let me just re-state that all sources so far list only 2 tornadoes on this day: this F4 in Saunders and Cass Counties (possibly Douglas) and an F3 west of this area in Colfax and Butler Counties.  The CDNS and NCDC have no reports of thunderstorm wind damage in this area either.  That doesn't mean there wasn't some but I wanted to note this.  When you are looking at an event from 1952, a lot of times the word tornado and wind are used interchangeably and that makes it confusing on what may have happened.

The Lincoln Journal Star had several articles that spanned a few days denoting the damage in eastern NE.  The town of Yutan is mentioned quite a bit.  The town of Ashland is as well.  These would be areas hit by the estimated F4.  If I saw Richland or David City, I knew that was part of the other tornado in Colfax & Butler Counties.

With the mention of the town of Ashland in several articles, the SPC path would seem to make sense. The word "wind" is used a lot in the Ashland area.  So was there a tornado or wind damage there?  Looking more at that SPC path, they have it starting east of Wahoo.  I didn't see any damage reports in Wahoo.  Yutan had several reports of damage so perhaps the start of the path should be further east.  Wahoo and Yutan are about 13.5 miles apart.  

Note:  I found articles that mention damage in the town of Talmage.  Was it wind or tornado damage?  We may never know.  Talmage is in Otoe County south of Cass and is not mentioned in any source that I know of except newspapers.  So perhaps a tornado that was missed?

Thu, Aug 14, 1952 – 1 · Lincoln Journal Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) · Newspapers.com

Back to what may have happened with this estimated F4:  From the Lincoln Journal Start on August 14, 1952, page 1:

Thu, Aug 14, 1952 – 1 · Lincoln Journal Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) · Newspapers.com

Thu, Aug 14, 1952 – 1 · Lincoln Journal Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) · Newspapers.com

More information came into the Lincoln Star on August 15, 1952.  One tidbit and image that popped out at me was the following:

Fri, Aug 15, 1952 – 7 · The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) · Newspapers.com

Fri, Aug 15, 1952 – 14 · Lincoln Journal Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) · Newspapers.com

And a little more about Virgil Owen, Ashland Farmer who believes the cow he was pinned under saved his life....

Fri, Aug 15, 1952 – 8 · The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) · Newspapers.com

So, the question remains....what happened?  We may never know.  But we can at least have some fun and play detective and venture a guess.....

I pose 2 theories:  The SPC path is generally correct but should start a little closer to Yutan and then move more SSE toward Ashland....OR we have a tornado that tracked as Grazulis outlined from 5 miles SW of Wahoo south of Yutan into Douglas County AND we have a missed event near Ashland.  What that event was is still unclear?  In the article about about Mr. Owens, they say it was a tornado.  Other articles say wind.

I also think we have a missed event in the Talmage area.  

This exercise in tornado sleuthing is fun but certainly time-consuming so I will stop there and let all of you weigh in on what you think may have happened.  We would love to hear from you on any of our social accounts or on our contact page!  

 

Discrepancies:

We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the August 1952 Climatological Data National Summary (CDNS) and Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes and found the following differences:

Path Length:

  • SPC/NCDC have a 26.7 mile path length.
  • CDNS has a 30 mile path.
  • Grazulis has a 20 mile path.

Width:

  • SPC/NCDC have a 110 yard width.
  • CDNS lists a range of widths from 110-220 yards.
  • Grazulis has a 220 yard width.

Counties:

  • All sources have Saunders Counties.
  • Grazulis has Douglas but not Cass County while remaining sources have Cass and not Douglas.

Sources:

The Storm Prediction Center

NCDC Storm Events Database

August 1952 Climatological Data National Summary

newspapers.com

Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 1952.