On June 3, 2014, a storm featuring 50-80 mph winds and tennis ball-to-softball-size hail sandblasted a tiny town in eastern Nebraska, leaving homes in tatters. Lois Krohn was home when the ferocious storm hit and now more than six months after the storm, shares her story of being in the middle of Mother Nature's wrath.
HOOPER, Neb. -- June 3 began as just another day on Keith and Lois Krohn's farm in the small town of Hooper, Nebraska. It was in the middle of severe weather season, and there was a forecast of storms for the day, but their farm has taken what Mother Nature has had to offer in the past.
"All day and even the day before, the weatherman had been predicting the possibility of bad storms but usually 'bad storms' just meant lots of thunder and lightning and perhaps some heavy rain for a short period of time," Lois Krohn said. "I have lived on this farm for over 42 years and my neighbor who is my mom in law has lived there for over 70 years and nothing really severe has happened."
That would change later in the afternoon.
"I was busy mowing our farm while glancing up at the sky that was getting a little 'mean' looking as the day went on," Krohn said. "I do not get a clear view of the horizon unless I go out to look past the grove of trees -- we are surrounded on all four sides by a shelter belt of beautiful trees. At about 3:30, I checked my cell phone and found that my son Kevin had called several times."
Kevin has a meteorology degree and of course had been closely monitoring the expected severe weather of the day.
Just as Lois was about to return the call, her cell phone rang again -- it was Kevin.
"He told me that a terrible storm that he had been watching on his computer had changed course and was heading in our direction at a fast pace," Lois said. "He said that I had maybe 20 minutes or maybe 30 minutes at the most to get in the basement."
As she was on the phone with her son, the sky began to change.
"Now the dark black and blue clouds were rolling and swirling in all directions," she said. "I had never seen anything like it .The colors were so intense -- including the deepest green that I had ever seen."
The deep greens are caused by large hail stones in the cloud refracting sunlight. It was a beautiful yet ominous sign.
A 'terrible, loud roar'
Lois said she always wondered what she would do if severe weather was ever heading for her farm.
"I pictured myself staying calm and doing the norm -- grab pets, grab your purse with the 'important stuff,' grab any pictures that I could, etc. and calmly walk to the basement in plenty of time," she said.
But she couldn't just let her precious yard suffer the wrath of what was to come.
"I am a flower and yard fanatic and work so hard on the beautiful yard. So the first thing I thought of trying to save from the coming hail was my flowers and statuary," she said. "I actually carried 50-60-pound pots to the garage."
She says she now thinks back and smiles of how frantically she was running from pot to pot.
"I actually got 25 pots and 10 garden statues into the garage using up about 10 of my precious minutes. I was running back to get more when my husband drove up and realized that there was no room for his pickup," she said. "He took it over to our daughter and son in law's machine shed, about a half mile away."
Her son-in-law brought him back as she was still trying to save the yard, but time was running short.
"My husband, Keith, ran out to the road to look at the horizon and came back running and yelling that we had to get in the basement as it was coming NOW," Lois said.
12 minutes that seemed like an eternity
Moments later, the storm hit with immense intensity:
"The air was hot and it was as if it was trying to suffocate us, even though there was plenty of air from the terrible wind force," she said.
Now just 30 minutes after Lois got the call from her son, the ferocious thunderstorm brought a blistering combination of tennis-to-softball sized hail and 50-80 mph winds caused by the rushing downdrafts.
"Along with our little house dog, we ran to the basement door. We got down only 3 steps and we could hear the breaking of glass and the terrible loud roar," she said.
The barrage of massive hailstones carried by hurricane-force gusts was now pelting her home like artillery gunfire.
"We took cover in the basement by the steps. The sounds were like nothing I have ever heard before -- the pounding of what sounded like bowling balls hitting the floors just above us, and the deafening roar of the wind. We tried to talk but the sounds drowned our effort of conversation.
"It only lasted 12 minutes...but seemed like an eternity."
After the storm passed, they left the basement, unsure what they would find.
"As we ascended the stairs we were in agreement that we thought we would find our two stories atop of us would be gone, but our house was still above us," she said. "We were in shock as we looked at the inside of our beautiful house - we picked up round balls of hail the size of a softball and some the size of a baseballs in our kitchen, rain still blowing in, little pieces of glass still blowing in, rain pouring down through the ceiling light fixtures as if someone had turned them into faucets!"
Upstairs, a similar story:
"In walking up to the rooms upstairs we were greeted with wind still making itself present because of the rain blowing in -- there was enough rain on the floor that a tennis shoe was floating in the water that covered our oak floors, tree twigs and small branches were blown into the rooms and down the long hallway. Our bed's headboard was cracked and the mirror shattered. The cherished quilt on our bed was covered in debris and little cuts from the hail and glass. The damage list can go on and on, but it is hard to take it all in and you are basically in shock."
Outside, the gray siding was unrecognizable, shredded by Mother Nature's anger. But before they could take it all in, they faced their next challenge -- get the home protected as much as they could from additional storms.
"It was getting dark again as we were walking outside to survey the destruction, rain was closing in again along with the wind picking up -- windows needed to be covered to somehow stop the rain from coming into the house. I called the contractor about the storm hitting us and they arrived on the scene with plywood and tarps," she said, noting the contractor was easy to get a hold of as they had just finished putting new shingles on the roof.
Kevin had now arrived to check on his parents and help the frantic efforts to get the home patched up.
"The wind and returning rain made it quite a task to get the windows covered," Lois said. "Because of the intense lightning, the use of ladders had to stop and windows had to be covered now from the inside rather than the outside."
Shed blown 2 miles away
While there was no tornado, the intense downdraft winds were enough to cause significant damage.
"The pickup and extra car that we put in our daughter and son-in-law's machine shed were totaled because their entire machine shed was blown away -- two miles away to be exact," Lois said. "The vehicles were 'pounded' along with all windows smashed."
The nearby home of her 92-year-old mother-in-law and her daughter and son-in-law's home were also severely damaged by the storm.
At her mother-in-law's place: "92 years old and she huddled in the basement in a little protected area that we had made as 17 windows were broken and blown out," Lois Krohn said.
As for her daughter and son-in-law: "Their place was ripped apart like the others, including a new machine shed was blown away without much of a trace left behind -- tools, tool boxes, large air compressor, all thrown in every direction like toys."
And she's heard quite the story from her other neighbor as well.
"She was driving home with her little girl in backseat. She got stuck with windows being smashed by the large hail," Lois said. "She crawled in backseat, took little girl out of car seat, put car seat over little girl to protect -- no doubt saved her life or least from a lot of physical injury. Mother had the battle scars of glass and bruises in her arms to prove it!"
Appreciate the positive
Lois says six months later, they're still recovering from the storm.
"Everything that you hear about insurance, insurance adjusters, the frustration -- it is true," she said.
She and her husband had been living in a motel, then a camper borrowed from her brother in California. But now that winter has arrived, the camper had to be returned as the cold Nebraska weather was staring to freeze the pipes.
As for their house, repairs are still under way.
"Our house has seven rooms gutted down to the studs and rafters. I was holding up and being positive but now I must admit I am overwhelmed/depressed/frustrated/etc. -- I just want to be back in my house," she said. With mid-December came news her home finally has insulation and dry wall. "The insulation is a big positive," she says.
They still have a ways to go, but she is trying to hang in there.
"Like all other tragedies, crisis, etc. one always thinks they have empathy and can understand what that person is going through, but unless you have 'been there/done that,' how does one describe it and actually put it into words?" Lois said. " It was so, so, so very terrifying! I have a little saying posted on my fridge: 'Be thankful for the negative things that happen in your life. It makes you appreciate the positive that you perhaps have been ignoring.' Wow, how true!"