The EF-1 tornado that freight-trained across Offutt Air Force Base’s parade grounds and down its flight line last summer left behind damage totaling nearly $20 million, Air Force officials say.
Some damage has yet to be repaired from the twister that hit the base June 16, 2017. It was one of six tornadoes that struck Nebraska in the late afternoon and early evening, and one of two that touched down in eastern Sarpy County. Base officials said it was the first time a tornado had hit the base since 1950 — or, possibly, ever.
The storm inflicted a $9.4 million hit on Offutt’s buildings and trees, said Col. Dave Norton, 55th Wing Mission Support Group commander. In addition, damage to aircraft totaled slightly more than $10 million, according to figures provided by the Air Force.
“It was almost the worst possible path,” Norton said. “It’s remarkable that no one was hurt.”
Initial estimates shortly after the storm projected damage to base infrastructure — not counting the aircraft — at $7 million to $10 million. Officials at the 55th Wing waited months to disclose the totals because of an ongoing inquiry regarding the tornado.
The tornado was spawned by a front that built up strength as it moved toward the Omaha area from northeast Nebraska. In Omaha, severe weather caused the cancellation of the opening ceremonies of the College World Series and sent crowds at TD Ameritrade Park hurrying for cover.
The twister dropped down west of the Kennedy Freeway at 8:08 p.m. near Willow Lakes Golf Course. Heading southeast, the twister jumped over the Kennedy Freeway and Fort Crook Road before climbing a hill and moving toward Offutt’s parade grounds, and the century-old brick houses that surround them. It flattened fences, broke trees and frightened military families who were home that Friday evening.
From there, the storm barreled along parallel to the runway. After landing a blow to the base’s enormous gym, the tornado blew past the Bennie Davis Maintenance Facility to the apron where many of Offutt’s fleet of 29 C-135 reconnaissance aircraft were parked in neat rows.
The tornado scored an unlucky bullseye right on the Offutt flight line. The powerful winds knocked some of the jets askew. The jets that had been parked in the hangars with their tails exposed suffered more damage than the ones left outdoors. Two E-4B jets sustained $8.3 million in damage, and four C-135 reconnaissance aircraft required $1.8 million in repairs. Four other C-135s caught outside during the storm were inspected but found to be undamaged, 55th Wing officials said.
The two E-4Bs are valued at about $750 million each, said Lt. Col. Douglas Dodge, commander of the 595th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
The tornado proceeded southeast along Looking Glass Avenue, where it damaged several more buildings. It twisted bleachers and fences at baseball fields near Offutt’s southern fence before exiting the base’s perimeter and crossing the Missouri River into Iowa.
It was on the ground for just five minutes, according to the National Weather Service.
About $7.5 million of the damage was to the roofs of 32 buildings on the base. The cost of repairing the roof of the base fitness center alone is $3.5 million, Norton said.
Only 12 of the buildings received permanent roof repairs before winter set in. More than $5 million in repair work hasn’t been completed, including the fitness center project.
“There are still some roof patches that you can see,” Norton said. “These will be taken care of as we go through spring and summer.”
In addition to roof repairs, the Air Force spent $675,000 to trim or cut down 504 trees that were damaged on the base. Trimming or removal of 242 damaged trees at Offutt’s Willow Lakes Golf Course cost nearly $256,000, which will be paid for out of golf course revenue rather than taxpayer dollars, Norton said.
He said the trees will not be replaced.
“Trees, when you have high winds, can become projectiles,” Norton said. “They attract birds, and to have them near airfields is not good.”
The Wing has budgeted $269,000 for repairs to buildings that received structural damage. Aside from the gym, the most severely damaged buildings included one used for intelligence operations and an alert facility for Offutt-based flight crews.
About $59,000 was spent to repair guard shacks and $85,500 to fix and replace fences.
—BH News Service