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Tornado, large hail sweep through Lincoln

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Tornado, 05.09.16

This funnel cloud, spotted near Tractor Supply Co. at 84th Street and Nebraska 2, was part of a wild weather Monday across southeast Lincoln. Large hail damaged cars and buildings and heavy rain led to flooding.

For two hours Sarah Parker huddled with residents, employees and other guests inside the care center near 84th Street and Nebraska 2.

"You could hear rain and then you could hear hail, then all the sudden you could hear the tornado," Parker said on Monday evening. "You could just feel it."

A severe thunderstorm pounded parts of Lincoln for several hours on Monday, spinning out a tornado, blasting the area with large hail and flooding basements and streets.

The storm arrived just as many in the city were heading home from work or school, Lancaster County Emergency Manager Jim Davidsaver said, but he credits people hearing the storm sirens and heeding weather alerts for saving  lives.

“As quickly as this front spooled up, I think we’re very fortunate that we didn’t suffer any significant injuries,” Davidsaver said.

At Southlake Village Rehabilitation & Care Center, near where the confirmed tornado was spotted in southeast Lincoln, windows to the building were busted out and more than a dozen cars with shattered windows riddled the parking lot.

"It happened so fast," said Lori Tackett, whose father is a client. "Windows busted into patient rooms."

Employees got everybody to the center of the building and no one was injured.

Parker and her family were visiting her father at the center when it happened.

Two hours after the storm hit, visitors finally emerged to assess the damage.

"Thank goodness no one was hurt," Parker said. "You know, who cares about this stuff? You can have your windshields replaced, you can buy a new car, but you can't buy a new person. We lucked out."

A low pressure system leftover from storms that passed through overnight Sunday conspired with warm, moist air to create the slow moving -- almost stationary -- storms that battered Lincoln beginning around 3:30 p.m., said meteorologist Becky Kern of the National Weather Service in Valley.

The large, sustained hail that piled into drifts in southeast Lincoln could be partly attributed to a lack of wind to push the storm out of the area, she said.

“Today they weren’t moving very fast,” Kern said.

Hail shattered windows at the Wal-Mart near 84th and Nebraska 2, forcing the store to close Monday evening.

The rare sighting of a confirmed tornado inside city limits prompted Lancaster County Emergency Management to sound warning sirens across Lincoln at 4:30 p.m.

The Nebraska State Patrol posted photos on social media of some damage in the area, including a flipped trailer, damaged fences and punctured siding and a destroyed backyard playground set.

Not far away, near Pine Lake Road, the garage door of a home was blown out.

But for the most part, structure damage in Lancaster County was mostly the result of large hail, Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Ryan Schmuecker said.

Homeowners near Hidden Valley Golf Club near 112th and Pine Lake Road reported a damaged roof from hail larger than tennis balls. The hailstones dug divots into some of the golf course's greens.

One shed in the county might have been hit by a tornado.

“The good news is we have zero injuries,” Schmuecker said.

By nightfall, flooding was the major concern, with water covering several roads.

Radar estimates put rainfall totals Monday afternoon alone at 4 to 6 inches across southeast Lincoln, compared to just .43 of an inch recorded over the afternoon at the Lincoln Airport.

City of Lincoln officials encouraged residents to stay at home Monday night, as conditions make it too dangerous to be on the streets.

As the storms rolled in, strength and conditioning coach Bailey Dawson looked out the window at Snap Fitness, 8901 Andermatt Drive, saw a client’s husband standing outside staring up and went out to see what had him so entranced.

It was cool outside and massive ominous clouds dominated the sky. The temperature dropped. The wind kicked up. Then it got warm, humid and the wind stilled.

“There was a big wall cloud out there, it started spinning a little bit, it would start to form a little then it would suck back up. It did that a couple times,” she said.

She went back inside to warn her co-workers. The sirens went off. Most of the office headed to the bathroom for shelter.

Hail ranging from the size of a pea to a softball battered cars and smashed windows.

“The back windshield of my car has a bunch of holes in it from where the hail broke through. We have another girl’s car whose back windshield is completely shattered out,” Dawson said. “It looks like it has been snowing there is so much hail on the ground.”

At the Honda of Lincoln dealership, 2770 Yankee Hill Road, detail manager Shane Dilworth watched the sky churn and funnel develop.

“It looked like it was going to come down and then did, then didn’t,” Dilworth said. “And the hail right now is easily a quarter size.”

The National Weather Service also issued tornado warnings for storms near Hickman, to the south, and in the Bennet area southeast of Lincoln.

About a dozen people took shelter at a Casey's convenience store near 148th Street and Nebraska 2 in the path of a radar-indicated tornado.

Elsewhere in the state, a tornado damaged Sandy Creek High School, near Fairfield, and destroyed a home outside Nehawka.

Sandy Weyers, Cass County Emergency Management director, says the homeowner didn't make it inside by the time a tornado arrived in the area, so he grabbed hold of a tree and "rode it out."

The man only suffered a few cuts and scrapes, but Weyers said the home was a total loss. No one was in the home when the roof and outer walls collapsed.

A storm chaser reported a rope tornado on the ground at highways 14 and 74 near Fairfield, where the high school lost part of an awning, an HVAC unit on the building's roof and debris damaged at least nine vehicles.

Officials said the building sustained no structural damage.

In Buffalo County, brief tornado touchdowns were reported between Odessa and Elm Creek.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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