• Climbing the Hill
    Climbing the Hill

    Grand Island turned a bad situation into a big hill by burying the debris from 1980 tornado damage in Ryder Park.

  • Teetering at the Top
    Teetering at the Top

    The large hill is now one of the best places inside the city for sledding, bicycling, or just climbing for a view of town.

  • Not so sure about this
    Not so sure about this

    Six people were killed by the tornadoes, more than 200 injured, and damages were estimated at more than $285 million (1980 figures).

  • Look Out Below
    Look Out Below

    Grand Island rallied from the tragedy and was subsequently awarded the All-American City Award in 1981.

  • Bottom of the Hill
    Bottom of the Hill

    Tornado Hill serves as a monument to the perseverance of Grand Islanders.

Tornado Hill, a monument to community

Only a slight chance for thunderstorms was predicted by the National Weather Service for June 3rd in 1980, but that evening a highly unusual prairie supercell formed just northwest of Grand Island. The storm moved at a snail's pace over the city, and as it crawled along it dropped seven tornadoes — three of which were out of the ordinary in that they were anticyclonic.

The strongest of the twisters was rated at F4, and damages in the city were estimated at almost $300 million (in 1980 dollars). Grand Island rallied though and was soon picking up the pieces of their city, turning those pieces into a big hill.

Wayne Bennett, Grand Island Public Work Director at the time, said, "I was stationed in Germany and was in Munich when they were building for the 1927 Olympics. Near the same area was a large hill that was the remnants from the bombings in World War II. Grand Island doesn't have many hills, so I thought it would be a way to rid us of the debris and create a recreational benefit at the same time."

Tornado Hill actually started out as a hole.

"Tornado Hill, which reaches almost 40 feet in height, actually started out as a hole," said Rod Hooker, who was foreman of the project.

Six to eight feet of soil was excavated before debris was hauled in; the hole was 200 feet in diameter. Thirteen trucks were used to haul in debris for about six weeks. They also hauled the debris from Fonner Park Race Track; the burned debris covered the inside of the track and was up to 20 feet tall. After three weeks of smoldering and burning, these piles were soaked with water before that hauling process began.