2019 Bomb Cyclone Effects Remembered

Five Midwestern States Saw Devastating Impact From March 2019 Bomb Cyclone

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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One of the many washed out rural roads along the Elkhorn River near Scribner, Nebraska, in the days after the 2019 bomb cyclone. (DTN file photo by Russ Quinn)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Before March 13, 2019, most people in five Midwest states had probably never heard of the phrase "bomb cyclone" -- I know I had never heard of it before.

After this date, however, residents in southern South Dakota, the entire state of Nebraska, western Iowa, northeastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri all discovered what a devastating impact this weather event can wreak on a region. The loss of human life and billions of dollars of infrastructure damage, personal property and dead livestock hounded the states for many months after the floodwater receded.


The early part of March 2019 was fairly typical weather in the Midwest. Snow was on the ground and the soils were still frozen, thanks to several inches of snow and below-freezing temperatures.

Then the bomb cyclone hit. For some, it featured a massive blizzard which lasted hours. For others, it was a large amount of rain for most of that day.

For some in central Nebraska, it was both at the same time.

I interviewed a cow-calf producer in the days after and he told me as he was attempting to move his cows during the night it was snowing heavily, then it would switch over to heavy rain, and then back to snow. He had never seen anything like it before as he suffered cattle losses from the extremely wet conditions.

DTN Ag Meteorologist Emeritus Bryce Anderson said at the time the storm system can be described as a "bomb cyclone", which came out of Colorado and caused flooding in two ways.

First, the vacuum-type intensity of the cyclone led to a powerful inflow of warm air from the Gulf of Mexico into the Central Plains and Midwest, causing a rapid melting of a snow cover of at least a foot deep, he explained. The ground beneath the snow was frozen from a cold, late winter and was already saturated from heavy rain last fall, so all the melted snow ran into rivers and streams.

"Secondly, warm air from the south had a full load of Gulf of Mexico moisture, which resulted in rainfall of record amounts in some locations -- generally 1 to 3 inches in the western Midwest, which simply added to the snowmelt and runoff," Anderson said.

For those of us in eastern Nebraska, it came in the form of much rain. I live on a farm about 35 miles north of Omaha and our probably foot of snow on the ground was gone in less than a day due to all of the rain.

These torrential rains combined with the melting snow on completely frozen ground created a situation in which widespread flooding occurred. We live and farm in the hills, but even our fields had much water on them.

I remember watching the local news shortly after it hit and a Nebraska official said something to the effect that he thought nearly every stream and river in Nebraska was flooding.

Think about that.


Levees were breached and one dam was breached along the Niobrara River in northeastern Nebraska near the South Dakota border. Many bridges were damaged over swollen rivers and the National Weather Service (NWS) stated "prolonged major flooding" was occurring on the Missouri River and its tributaries across all of Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and into eastern Kansas.

The flooding damaged many buildings at Offutt Air Force Base just south of Omaha along the Missouri River. Four years later, all operations have finally just returned to the base, home to U.S. Strategic Command.

Even NWS did not escape the flooding as well. Their office west of Omaha in Valley was flooded and had to closed.

We reported that damages in Nebraska alone would be around the $1 billion mark, in the days after the bomb cyclone. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimated the damage from the historical Midwest flooding was $12.7 billion (https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/…).

In my home area, the Platte and Elkhorn rivers ran wild in the days after the bomb cyclone.

Volunteer fire departments and the Nebraska National Guard spend days rescuing people whose houses and farms were flooded. The Nebraska National Guard also used helicopters to drop round bales to stranded cattle -- an event not seen in the state since the historical blizzard of 1949.

Fremont, Nebraska, became an island from the outside world when both rivers flooded, eliminating the routes in and out of the city of 25,000 people. Air travel was the only way in and out for several days.

My mother-in-law lives in Fremont; we didn't see her for a couple of weeks. Finally, one highway in our area was reopened, which allowed people to get to the city, much to the relief of my family.


In the days after the bomb cyclone hit, I attempted to travel out and report on what I could see. I visited with several farmers and agribusiness owners in northeastern Nebraska and I was shocked with the amount of flooding and road closures.

I had no way to cross the Elkhorn River and go west as every bridge was closed. I had to go up to Nebraska Highway 32 to go west as nearly every major highway and bridge was closed.

A farmer told me his county had run out of barriers to block off washed out roads so they were blocking them with whatever they could find. Another farmer who was a seed dealer said he already had customers considering purchasing larger seed tenders as they were going to have to drive many miles out of their way out to plant their fields.

While some fields didn't see a planter that spring, a vast majority of fields in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa were planted to corn and soybeans that spring. Some had to drive well out of their way to get to their fields, but crops were planted.


It was well into summer before many major highways and bridges were finally reopened. For us, it was great days when U.S. Highway 30 near Arlington and Nebraska State Highway 91 near Nickerson over the Elkhorn River were reopened and the relatively short trip to Fremont returned.

Nebraska Public Media, the state's Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) channel, produced an outstanding hour-long special titled "And the Floods Came Nebraska 2019" that details the story of what might very well be the worst natural disaster in the history of the State of Nebraska (https://www.pbs.org/…).

The next March of 2020, our nation was just beginning to deal with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. This huge worldwide event has kind of pushed this bomb cyclone to the background of history.

But for those of us who lived in the region affected by this wild weather, it would be difficult to forget the impact of something many of us had never heard of before.

DTN wrote several articles about the devastating 2019 bomb cyclone in the weeks and months after. Here are some of the articles from those first few weeks:

"Widespread Floods Hit Quickly," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
"A Billion-Dollar "Bomb," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Missouri River Corps Release," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Extensive Flood Damage in Nebraska," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Disaster Aid, Places to Donate," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Flood Cleanup Requires Care," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Weather Complicates Spring," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Livestock Losses Add Up," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Flood Impact on Cattle,"


Russ Quinn can be reached at Russ.Quinn@dtn.com

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Russ Quinn