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Weather service details at least six Tribland tornadoes from Wednesday
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Investigation of storm damage in the wake of Wednesday’s widespread outbreak of severe weather has led the National Weather Service’s Hastings Forecast Office to confirm at least nine tornadoes occurred in its service area — including at least six that affected Tribland.

The Hastings office covers 24 counties in central Nebraska and six counties in north central Kansas.

Tribland, which is shorthand for the Hastings Tribune’s news coverage area, includes all or part of 13 counties in southern Nebraska and northern Kansas.

All the tornadoes within the NWS Hastings service area were rated as EF-0 or EF-1 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, which is based on estimated wind speeds and related damage and runs as high as EF-5. Several of the tornadoes were intermittent, meaning they touched down and lifted a bit repeatedly; all apparently tracked to the northeast.

Estimated peak winds with the Tribland tornadoes ranged from 80-100 miles per hour.

The tornadoes, which resulted from a strong low-pressure system tracking through the region, were part of a wild day that also included severe straight-line winds, severe thunderstorms with hail, dust storms, wildfires, snow and a temperature drop of at least 36 degrees from early afternoon to mid-evening.

Widespread damage from straight winds occurred in the Tribune area, with reports coming in from communities like Hebron, Bruning, Geneva, Ong and Sutton and elsewhere. Wildfires in north central Kansas were propelled by straight winds estimated at 85-100 mph.

The tornadoes caused damage to numerous center-pivot irrigation systems in the area and structural damage in several locations, but no known injuries or human deaths. The mid-December timeframe meant spring-planted crops were out of the field. No injury to livestock or other animals was noted.

In a follow-up to Wednesday’s storms published online, NWS outlined the tornadoes it had been able to identify.

The Tribland tornadoes occurred over a little less than one hour’s time, starting shortly before 1:30 p.m. and ending about 2:19. They will be detailed in this article chronologically by estimated start time.

The first of the Tribland tornadoes began at 1:27 p.m. about five miles north of Minden and passed through the Lowell area in northern Kearney County before lifting southwest of Gibbon at 1:38. The tornado’s track was 11.2 miles in length, with a maximum width of 150 yards and peak winds estimated at 85 mph, for a rating of EF-0.

“This tornado was typical for the day, likely intermittent with regard to ground circulation and impacting rural areas,” NWS wrote in its storm summary.

“Much of the path damage can be traced to center irrigation pivots either partially or fully overturned.The tornado damaged a couple of power poles and peeled back some roofing material at the Rowe Sanctuary. A measured wind gust of 83 mph was recorded at the Sanctuary as the storm passed.

“Damage was a bit sparse north of the river. The tornadic circulation likely crossed (Interstate 80) about three miles west of the Gibbon interchange before knocking over a couple more pivots and lifting just southwest of Gibbon. The maximum wind speed of 85 mph (EF0) was based upon the measured wind gust (83 mph) and damage to power poles nearby.”

The Rowe Sanctuary, operated by the National Audubon Society, is situated along the Platte River northwest of the unincorporated village of Lowell in northern Kearney County.

The second Tribland tornado touched down at 1:29 p.m. and lifted at 1:41 after following a 14.1-mile-long track. Maximum wind speed was 85 mph, and the maximum track width was 100 yards. The assigned rating was EF-0.

“This intermittent tornado path started near the Franklin and Webster county line south of Campbell,” NWS wrote. “As it tracked northeast, some power poles, an irrigation pivot and minor building occurred east of Campbell. The tornado crossed into Adams County and tipped a few more pivots and caused minor damage to (a) home.”

The third tornado touched down at 1:44 p.m. west of Blue Hill and finally lifted at 1:56 p.m. west of Glenvil, having followed a 15-mile track up to 180 yards wide. The maximum wind speed was 100 mph, and the rating was EF-1.

“This intermittent tornado path started west of Blue Hill, including some irrigation pipe strewn into a tree line, along with tree damage a couple miles west of town,” NWS stated. “The tornado moved northeast, upsetting more pivots. The 100 mph wind estimate (EF1) was assigned based upon the snapping of power poles southeast of Ayr. Spotters saw the tornado west of Glenvil, where it upset another pivot before lifting.”

A fourth tornado touched down in the Rosedale area north of Hastings at 1:53 p.m. and tracked about 8.6 miles northeastward before lifting south of Doniphan at 2:01 p.m. The maximum track width was 150 yards, the highest wind speed was 100 mph, and the rating was EF-1.

“The Rosedale tornado impacted three farmsteads,” NWS wrote. “The 100 mph rating (EF1) was assigned based upon the collapse of an outbuilding at one farmstead. Partial roof loss was noted at one home, while another home had some superficial damage. Again, more pivots were overturned. The tornadic circulation probably crossed U.S. Highway 281 near the fuel supply facility south of Doniphan before lifting a mile or so south of Doniphan.”

Another tornado nearby touched down at 2 p.m. south of Trumbull and lifted at 2:06 p.m. at the end of a 7.3-mile track up to 60 yards wide. Top wind speed was 100 mph, and the rating was EF-0.

“This intermittent tornado damaged a horse barn south of Trumbull as it began its roughly seven-mile path,” the weather service stated. “As it moved northeast, most of the observable damage was to a couple of irrigation pivots along with a snapped tree.”

The sixth tornado to affect Tribland was an EF-1, touching down southeast of Giltner at 2:11 p.m. and lifting eight minutes later in Aurora, having followed a track 11.1 miles long and up to 400 yards wide with top winds at 100 mph.

“This tornado actually started four miles southeast of Giltner and traveled northeast into Aurora,” NWS wrote. “The 100 mph wind speed estimate (EF1) was assigned mostly based upon snapped power poles. There were numerous irrigation pivots damaged along the path.

“The tornado crossed Interstate 80 about two miles west of the Aurora interchange. The tornado entered the southwest side of Aurora near the fairgrounds. Metal cladding was peeled from storage facilities nearby, and there were several spots of tree damage. The tornado lifted around 12th and S streets just south of the railroad tracks.”

The storm damage reports from Wednesday were developed following field investigations and data review by weather service employees Thursday and Friday.

Wednesday was an incredibly busy day for the weather service meteorologists and staff north of Hastings.

NWS said in a social media post that through the course of the day it had issued one tornado watch, 11 tornado warnings, five severe-thunderstorm warnings, one high wind warning, one dust storm warning, one blowing dust warning, one red flag warning to denote fire danger, one snow squall warning and eight wildfire alerts.

The dust storm, blowing dust and snow squall warnings were the first to be issued by the Hastings office.

The office also logged 118 local storm reports from law enforcement and emergency management officials, spotters and the public detailing wind speeds, property damage and other storm-related information.

The Hastings staff also provided seamless back-up for a time for the NWS Omaha/Valley Forecast Office, where employees had to take shelter at one point.

Salvation Army fundraising deadline approaching
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Time is running short to help the Salvation Army of Hastings reach its monetary goals for the year.

Major Dale Brandenburg said the organization has less than a week to wrap up its 2021 fundraising efforts, including through its Red Kettle campaign for local charitable work.

“Traditionally, we like to take the kettle stands away on Christmas Eve at noon,” he said. “It’s been a little slow this year.”

The Salvation Army has been struggling to make those goals this year, but Brandenburg is hopeful the community will step up to help.

Brandenburg said the organization is about $25,000 short of what it had taken in at this time last year. The goal is to raise $176,000 to cover annual operating expenses, but the group had raised just $61,000 by Friday morning.

Annual expenses include utility bills and programming for children.

The Salvation Army also is behind on the kettle campaign, which is used to help people in the community throughout the year.

Officials hope to raise $51,200 for that program, collected mainly through the familiar red kettles and bell ringers around town. Of that goal, the group has raised $21,000 — about $15,000 less than the amount collected at this time last year.

The Red Kettle money is used by the organization’s social service department, overseen by Gretchen Brosman, case manager and business administrator.

“Those are the funds she gets to use during the year to help with rent, utilities and food,” Brandenburg said. “However much we raise is how much she gets to spend.”

Another event funded through the kettle program is the group’s annual toy shop.

The organization’s Christmas Assistance Program helps struggling families in the area by providing toys and food. One parent in each family accepted into the program chooses from toys donated by people in the community.

Members of the Present Patrol, including the Hastings Police Department, Hastings Fire and Rescue and the Local4 television station, collect toys through the season. Those toys are arranged on shelves in the basement of The Salvation Army for parents to peruse.

The goal each year is to collect enough toys to provide two toys per child, as well as board games and stocking stuffers.

That’s why Brandenburg says the fundraising efforts of The Salvation Army are crucial to the community.

“Thank you for giving to us,” he said. “We can’t do what we do without your help.”

This year the group added an online option for donors at the website Donations can be made with a credit card and funds are deposited into an account at Heritage Bank.

Brandenburg said the organization also has added options to donate through Vinmo and Paypal to go alongside previous options of Apple Pay and Google Pay.

“We have all kinds of ways of donating this year that we haven’t had in the past,” he said.

Anyone willing to donate can mail a check to The Salvation Army at 400 S. Burlington Ave., stop by the office or call 402-463-0529 to make other arrangements.

Nebraska's quandary: Can it force more citizens to work?
Nebraska has held one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates for years, with fewer than two million people and plenty of jobs to go around
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LINCOLN — Even in normal times Nebraska has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, with fewer than two million people and plenty of jobs to go around. But with some workers slow to return to work after COVID-19 shutdowns, the state has hit new depths, recording the country’s lowest-ever state unemployment rate of 1.8% in November.

Now Gov. Pete Ricketts, who frequently expounds on the value of work, is confronting an intriguing question: Can a governor force citizens to work, even if they apparently aren’t eager or able to do so?

Ricketts is certainly trying every option imaginable to get Nebraskans into jobs, including requiring people to confer with job coaches before seeking unemployment benefits.

“There’s going to be a lot of different things we’re going to have to do to reach each individual and, if they’re not working for whatever reason, get them back into the workforce,” Ricketts said recently.

Unemployment rates are low in many places, and as the national rate fell to 4.2%, officials across the country are struggling to convince people who have stopped looking for work to seek jobs.

A full work force is needed to keep businesses functioning and support local economies, but it’s hard to overstate the difficulty of uprooting people who are caring for family members, exploring other life options or who just want to take a break.

Ricketts is determined to try with policies that make it more trouble to stay home.

“Jobs help create great financial independence for Nebraskans and their families, giving them the dignity to achieve their dreams,” said the two-term Republican governor, who is part of the Ricketts family, whose estimated $4.5 billion in wealth originated with the creation of the online brokerage Ameritrade.

Ricketts’ first move was to require people seeking unemployment benefits to meet with a job coach, discuss specific employment goals and enroll in an “individualized reemployment plan.” The state added tougher requirements for maintaining benefits and for contacting employers to apply for openings.

Nebraska also was one of the first to end supplemental federal assistance for workers hit by the pandemic.

Nebraska has about 49,000 job openings listed on a state website and 19,000 working-age residents who are not working. About 4,300 people are receiving unemployment benefits.

Among the unemployed is Sonja Redding, an Omaha mother whose daughter and son have autism and methylmalonic acidemia, a rare autoimmune disease that makes them exceptionally vulnerable to viruses.

Redding previously worked as a reseller and ran her own booth at a flea market but stopped after the pandemic hit. She has survived on federal stimulus money, unemployment, Social Security income and her own savings, but lately has reduced her spending “to a bare minimum” so she can stay home with her children.

“I would love to get back to work,” she said. “I’m a normal parent and would like to have time away from my kids sometimes, but this is what we’ve got to do right now. It’s definitely draining.”

Redding said employers she’s talked to want her to come into the office.

Other reasons some people aren’t working include concerns about being infected with the coronavirus, said Dave Swenson, a economics professor at Iowa State University. Burnout is another factor, particularly among health care workers and teachers.

Swenson questions the effectiveness of Ricketts’ efforts because most people without jobs aren’t getting jobless aid, he said.

Still, there is no question that Nebraska businesses are hurting for workers.

“It’s their No. 1 challenge, their No. 2 challenge and their No. 3 challenge,” said Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In a chamber survey, more than 90% of chamber members identified worker shortages as their biggest concern.

In Lincoln, Nebraska’s second-largest city, Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing has been unable to meet customer demand for its jet skis, ATVs, subway rail cars and aircraft parts.

“I would hire 150 people right now if I could,” said Bryan Seck, the company’s chief talent management strategist.

Lincoln’s unemployment rate before the pandemic was 3.8%, but now it’s closer to 1.3%. Kawasaki has begun offering more consistent hours, an $18.10 starting hourly wage and a tuition reimbursement program.

Mitch Tempus, the owner of two Fernando’s Cafe & Cantina restaurants in the Omaha area, said he’s been trying unsuccessfully to lure back some of the servers and bussers he laid off last year, even offering raises that increased his labor costs by more than 20% and brought average wages up to $13 or $14 an hour.

And with new hires, “It’s even hard retaining them,” he said. “Sometimes people will work for two or three days and then we never see them again.”

Pat Keenan, who manages three chain hotels in North Platte, Nebraska, said he’s given up plans to open a restaurant near one hotel because “the chances of us getting it staffed are almost zero.”

He added, “I would call 2021 the year of the hourly employee,” he said. “They have more power than they’ve had and more money than they’ve ever had.”

Keenan said it’s time for the federal government to come up with an immigration reform plan that would allow more immigrants to work legally in the United States.

“I think we’re back at the stage where we need an influx of hard-working people again,” Keenan said. “I hate to say it, but it feels like a lot of existing Americans feel a little entitled and have lost their work ethic.”

Manchin not backing Dems' $2T bill, potentially dooming it
Sen. Joe Manchin says he can't back his party’s signature $2 trillion social and environment bill
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WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said Sunday he cannot back his party’s signature $2 trillion social and environment bill, dealing a potentially fatal blow to President Joe Biden’s leading domestic initiative heading into an election year when Democrats’ narrow hold on Congress was already in peril.

Manchin told “Fox News Sunday” that after five-and-half months of negotiations among Democrats in which he was his party’s chief obstacle to passage, “I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there.”

Manchin’s choice of words seemed to crack the door open to continued talks with Biden and top congressional Democrats over reshaping the legislation. But the West Virginia senator all but said the bill would die unless it met his demands for a smaller, less sweeping package — something that would be hard for many Democrats in the narrowly divided Congress to accept.

The bill would provide hundreds of billions of dollars to help millions of families with children by extending a more generous child tax credit, creating free preschool and bolstering child care aid. There is more than $500 billion for tax breaks and spending aimed at curbing carbon emissions, which experts consider the largest federal expenditure ever to combat climate change.

Other provisions would limit prescription drug price increases, create hearing benefits for Medicare recipients and bolster aid for the elderly, housing and job training. Nearly all of it would be paid for with higher taxes on the wealthy and large corporations.

In an unusually hardball response to a lawmaker whose vote is crucial in the 50-50 Senate, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called Manchin’s announcement “a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position” and “a breach of his commitments” to Biden and congressional Democrats. She pointedly said that Manchin, whose state is among the nation’s poorest, “will have to explain” why many families will have to cope with higher health and child care costs the bill is intended to address.

Psaki said in a statement that Manchin had “in person” given Biden a written proposal last Tuesday that was “the same size and scope” of a framework for the bill that Democrats rallied behind in October, and agreed he’d continue talks. That framework had a 10-year cost of $1.85 trillion. Officials hadn’t previously disclosed that Tuesday meeting.

“We will continue to. press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word,” Psaki said.

A Manchin aide gave the White House about a 20-minute notice before the lawmaker announced his position on national television, said a person familiar with the senator’s actions who described them only on condition of anonymity.

The legislation’s collapse would deepen bitter ideological divisions between progressive and moderate Democrats. That would imperil the party’s ability to get behind any substantial legislation before the November congressional elections, when their control of Congress seems in doubt. And it would add a note of chaos just as Democrats need to demonstrate accomplishments and show a united front to voters.

Manchin’s declaration was a stunning repudiation of Biden’s and his party’s top goal, and its delivery — a last-minute heads up from a staffer — seemed little short of a slap in the face to Biden. A rejection of the legislation has been seen by many as unthinkable because of the political damage it could inflict on Democrats.

It is rare for a member of a president’s own party to administer a fatal blow to their paramount legislative objective. Manchin’s decision called to mind the famous thumbs-down vote by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that killed President Donald Trump’s 2017 effort to repeal the health care law enacted under President Barack Obama.

Manchin’s comments, as Congress was on a holiday recess, drew fury from Democratic colleagues he already has enraged and frustrated for months. Other problems have arisen, caused by another moderate Democrat, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, and bickering between progressives and centrists, but none has approached the magnitude of Manchin’s stands.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said in a written statement that if Manchin wants to oppose the legislation, “He should have the opportunity to do so with a floor vote as soon as the Senate returns.” Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, a leader of House progressives, said Manchin can no longer say “he is a man of his word.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said it would be “extremely disappointing” to abandon top priorities but that a package helping families, containing health care costs and creating clean energy jobs “would go a long way toward addressing our challenges.”

Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., reiterated moderates’ desire to see the bill refocused on fewer programs. “Failure is not an option,” she said.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, had spent weeks trying to turn Manchin against the bill by saying it was too expensive. “I very much appreciate” Manchin’s opposition, Graham said.

Manchin said he was opposing the 10-year, roughly $2 trillion bill because of his concerns about inflation, growing federal debt and a need to focus on the omicron COVID-19 variant. He accused Democrats in a written statement later of trying to “dramatically reshape our society in a way that leaves our country even more vulnerable to the threats we face,” seemingly delineating an ideological gap between himself and his party.

He also wants the bill’s initiatives to last the measure’s full 10-year duration. Democrats made many of them temporary to limit the bill’s cost, which Manchin says is misleading.

The bill’s extension of enhanced child tax credit benefits, including monthly checks to millions of families, would only be extended one year. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected the credit’s full 10-year cost at $1.6 trillion, nearly the size of the entire package Manchin says he’d accept. To fit, any compromise would likely have to reduce the tax credit’s benefits and deeply cut many other proposals.

Democrats dismiss Manchin’s assertions that the bill would fuel inflation and worsen budget deficits.

They say its annual spending would be a tiny percentage of the country’s $23 trillion economy and have little impact on prices. Its job training, education and other initiatives would spur economic growth and curb inflation long-term, they say.

Democrats note that CBO estimated the bill’s savings would leave it adding $200 billion to federal deficits over the coming decade, small compared to the $12 trillion in red ink already projected.