Located near the center of "Tornado Alley," Wayne, NE, (population 5,500) has had its share of twisters. But the EF4 that roared through the tiny town in 2013 was especially cruel, damaging or destroying nearly everything in its path - including much of Wayne Municipal Airport (LCG) Stan Morris Field.
Project: Tornado Recovery
Location: Wayne (NE) Municipal Airport
Estimated Cost: $2 million
Timeline: EF4 tornado hit on Oct. 4, 2013; airport dedicated rebuilt facilities on Oct. 3, 2014
Assets Rebuilt: Terminal/shop hangar; numerous T hangars; airfield lights, navigation aids & weather system
Additional Projects: Improving highway access; upgrading hangars with insulation & heaters; installing new tip-down beacon; adding security fencing; installing new concrete to improve drainage & create additional parking
Terminal/Shop Hangar Reconstruction: OCC & its subcontractors
Facility Engineers: Olsson Associates
Airfield Lights & Electric Vault: Richards Electric
Hangar Construction: North Central Building
Electrical Subcontractor for Hangars:
Concrete Subcontractor for Hangars: Leseberg Construction
Furnace, Air Conditioner & Water Softener Installation: Zach Heating & Cooling
Office Replacement: Homestead Homes
House Reconstruction: Heritage Homes
Fuel System Replacement: Stanley Petroleum
Sitework: Milo Meyer Construction
Flat Concrete Installation: Sebade Construction
Fencing: No Swett Fencing
Automated Weather Observation System: Vaisala
AWOS Installation: Nebraska Dept. of Aeronautics
Of Note: Because terminal/shop hangar was 95% complete when the tornado hit, the builder's risk insurance paid to reconstruct it
Adding salt to the wound, the airport had debuted a $950,000 terminal addition just two months earlier. Suddenly, the new facility funded with a state loan and Airport Improvement Program grant was gone - planes, hangars and all.
It wasn't gone for long, though. One year later, city residents celebrated LCG's comeback by attending a second terminal dedication ceremony - this time for a bigger, better terminal building.
Reconstruction and added improvements cost approximately $2 million, with expenses for rebuilding the terminal/shop hangar paid by the original contractor's risk insurance, because the facility was roughly 95% complete when the tornado hit. What initially felt like a harsh irony ended up also being an odd stroke of financial luck.
"The storm was devastating, but the silver lining is that the airport is now a beautiful facility with all new buildings," reflects Nancy Braden, the city's finance director.
The violent tornado touched down southwest of Wayne at about 5:00 p.m. on Oct. 4, 2013 - flattening crops and damaging homes while gaining strength and heading northeast. It skirted Wayne's downtown and primary residential district but blew through the industrial park, causing severe damage, before heading directly toward LCG.
At the airport, the storm destroyed most of the buildings and wiped out the automated weather observation system, hundreds of runway/taxiway lights, the field's non-directional radio beacon and other navigational aids.
After the winds died down and rain ended, Airport Manager Tom Becker was taken aback by how utterly dark the airport looked without lights. "It almost seemed as if LCG never existed," Becker recalls. "The devastation was unbelievable."
Although the tornado stayed on the ground for nearly 20 miles, with wind speeds clocked at up to 170 mph, there was fortunately no loss of life, he stresses.
Building destroyed by the tornado included LCG's nearly complete general aviation terminal/shop hangar, two T hangars, a larger 10,000-square-foot hangar, the structure that housed the airport's radio beacon, a storage shed, the field's electrical vault and the on-site house that included a manager's office and pilot lounge.
"Some concrete slabs were all that remained of one hangar, while all four planes inside wound up in piles of rubble on the grass runway and in the fields," Becker describes. "Only the 10-bay T hangar remained standing; however, it did suffer damage to the exterior, roof and doors ... Debris was all over the fields and runways. That was the tough part - not recognizing anything, including hangars and airplanes."
Vehicles and equipment demolished included LCG's courtesy car, a pickup with snowplow attachment, a John Deere tractor, a new sweeper broom, a New Holland bi-directional tractor with snow blower, and a fuel dispensing system that included a fuel pump, hose reel and credit card system.
One of the tractors parked next to a hangar was found in a nearby field, covered in steel, insulation and mud.
After damage at the airport was evaluated, a massive cleanup effort was needed before the rebuilding process could begin. "By December, we had most of the debris removed and were able to start reconstruction," reports Nancy Braden, finance director for the city of Wayne. "Working with the insurance adjuster, we were able to take bids for the facilities and begin the rebuilding process."
The airport board began meeting twice a month to facilitate the process, but a severely cold winter froze the ground and delayed construction. By August 2014, the majority of the buildings were back to their previous state, notes Braden.
|Did You Know?
According to meteorologists, the United States records about 1,000 tornadoes per year - far more than any other country in the world. Neighboring Canada ranks a distant second, with approximately 100 annual tornadoes.
Reinsurance specialists report that insured losses from U.S. tornadoes and thunderstorms totaled $10.3 billion in 2013. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that the tornado that hit Wayne, NE, and Wayne Municipal Airport in October 2013 caused more than $56 million of property damage. With lost income for area businesses and farmers, the figure is even higher.
During reconstruction, the airport authority also upgraded various infrastructure elements at LCG. Additional projects improved highway access, upgraded ten hangars with insulation and heaters, added a new tip-down beacon, enhanced security fencing and provided new concrete to improve drainage and create additional parking space.
Hangars were rebuilt using the same color scheme to improve the airport's exterior appearance; and many of the businesses with buildings damaged in the nearby industrial park chose to expand their facilities. In the end, only one business decided not to rebuild, reports Braden.
With reconstruction complete, LCG is back in business - with three runways and a total of 20 T hangars for rent. Becker Flying Service, the field's fixed-base operator, leases the airport's larger hangars (6,400 and 10,000 square feet) as well as its 40-by-40-foot storage building. Last year, avgas sales at LCG totaled about 18,000 gallons.
An on-airport house that had to be completely reconstructed is being leased by a local agronomy company for office space. And a new pilot lounge, meeting room and managers' office are now located in the main terminal/shop hangar.
Braden proudly reports that pilots and passengers stopping at LCG en route to Oshkosh, WI, for the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual fly-in frequently comment about the airport's great facilities and local hospitality.
According to local news reports, city officials were relieved when they first saw the recently re-built airport terminal, because they consider LCG the front door to their community and a crucial way to create a positive first impression on visitors.
Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, who flew in for both terminal dedication ceremonies, highlighted the determination of Great Plains residents to prevail after all types of disasters. "In every case," he noted, "Nebraskans come together."