At least 5 dead as Midwest rocked by high winds | Colorado News


By MARGERY A. BECK and MARGARET STAFFORD, Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – At least five people have died as a powerful and extremely unusual storm system swept through the Great Plains and Midwest amid unusually warm temperatures, spawning hurricane-force winds and possible tornadoes in Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.

In southeast Minnesota, Olmsted County Sheriff’s Lt. Lee Rossman said a 65-year-old man was killed Wednesday night when a 40-foot tree blew on him outside his house. In southwestern Kansas, blinding dust raised by storms on Wednesday resulted in two separate crashes that left three people dead, said Mike Racy, a Kansas Highway Patrol soldier. And in eastern Iowa, a semi-trailer was struck by high winds and overturned Wednesday night, killing the driver, the Iowa State Patrol confirmed.

The storm moved north of the Great Lakes toward Canada on Thursday, with high winds, snow and dangerous conditions persisting in the upper Great Lakes region, the National Weather Service said. More than 190,000 homes and businesses went without power Thursday afternoon in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Kansas, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports.

A tornado was reported in southern Minnesota on Wednesday and, if confirmed, it would be the first on record in the state in December. The small community of Hartland, Minnesota was perhaps the hardest hit, with 35 to 40 homes suffering minor damage and a few businesses severely damaged, county emergency management director Rich Hall said. .

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The losses also included livestock. Dozens of cows have been electrocuted on a dairy farm after an electric pole landed on a milking barn in Newaygo County, western Michigan. Tim Butler said his dairy workers survived the event, but at least 70 cows died. Dozens survived, but many were “seriously injured,” Butler said.

The destructive weather system developed amid unprecedented heat for December across the plains and northern states. That included temperatures that reached 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) in southwestern Wisconsin on Wednesday night. Weather Company historian Chris Burt has likened the heat to that of a “hot July evening.”

“I can say with some confidence that this event (the heat and the tornadoes) is one of the most (if not THE most) abnormal weather events on record in the Upper Midwest,” Burt wrote in a Facebook post. .

Winds knocked down trees, tree branches and nearly 150 power lines in the northern and western Lower Peninsula of Michigan. In the village of Fruitport, western Michigan, high winds rolled back part of the roof at Edgewood Elementary School, leading authorities to close all schools in the district on Thursday.

There were more than 20 reports of tornadoes Wednesday in the Plains States, scattered mainly in eastern Nebraska and Iowa, based on preliminary reports from the Storm Prediction Center. The storm system has led to the highest number of reports of hurricane-force wind gusts – 75 mph (120 km / h) or more – daily in the United States since 2004, the center said.

“To have this number of devastating windstorms all at once would be unusual at any time of the year,” said Brian Barjenbruch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Valley, Nebraska. “But for that to happen in December is really abnormal.”

The governors of Kansas and Iowa have declared a state of emergency.

On Wednesday, there were at least 59 reports of hurricane-force wind gusts across the region, which topped the 53 recorded on Aug. 10, 2020, when a rare derecho windstorm hit Iowa, said the Storm Prediction Center. Wednesday’s destruction, however, was much less severe than last year’s derecho, which caused billions of dollars in damage.

The winds also raised dust that reduced visibility to zero in parts of Kansas and caused at least four tractor-trailers to overturn, leading authorities to temporarily close much of Interstate 70. , as well as all highways in nine counties in Northwestern Kansas.

Kansas has deployed helicopters and other firefighting equipment to help quell at least a dozen wind-powered wildfires in western and central counties, officials said Thursday.

This dust and smoke was carried north by the storm and concentrated over parts of Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa, causing a dramatic drop in air quality in those areas on Wednesday evening. This created an overabundance of calls to already taxed emergency dispatchers from people reporting a smell of smoke.

The system blew across the Colorado plains, sending gale force winds across a swath from New Mexico to Minnesota, Wisconsin and upper Michigan. The weather service recorded a gust of 107 mph (172 km / h) Wednesday morning in Lamar, Colorado, and gusts of 100 mph in Russell, Kansas.

Scientists say extreme weather events and warmer temperatures are more likely to occur with man-made climate change. However, scientifically attributing a storm system to global warming requires specific analysis and time consuming computer simulations have not been performed and sometimes show no clear connection.

“I think we also need to stop asking ourselves whether or not this event was caused by climate change,” said Victor Gensini, professor of meteorology at Northern Illinois University. and what was the probability that this event would occur in the absence of climate change? “

The unusually warm temperatures on Wednesday were due in part to record-breaking ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, which would not have happened without global warming, said Jeff Masters, a Yale Climate Connections meteorologist who co-founded Weather Underground.

Stafford reported from Liberty, Missouri.

Associated Press editors Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Ken Miller in Oklahoma City; Terry Wallace in Dallas; Seth Borenstein in Washington DC; Jim Anderson in Denver and Grant Schulte in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.

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