Ferocious weather pounded the midwest on Sunday with tornadoes, intense thunderstorms and giant hail threatening 53 million people across 10 states and leaving tens of thousands without power.
A county coroner said two people were killed when a tornado hit their home in rural southern Illinois. Washington County coroner Mark Styninger said the elderly man and his sister died on Sunday afternoon in their farmhouse in the town of New Minden, about 50 miles southeast of St Louis.
The National Weather Center reported “tornado watches indicating a particularly dangerous situation” for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri. By mid-afternoon there were reports of 59 tornadoes, 128 reports of damaging winds and 36 reports of large hail. The storm paths threatened major cities including Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit and Louisville, Kentucky.
Storms caused extensive damage in several central Illinois communities. Washington, a community of more than 15,000 people, appeared to have been particularly hard hit. State official said emergency crews were racing to the area amid reports of people trapped in buildings.
In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Washington resident Michael Perdun said: “I stepped outside and I heard it coming. My daughter was already in the basement, so I ran downstairs and grabbed her, crouched in the laundry room and all of a sudden I could see daylight up the stairway and my house was gone. The whole neighborhood’s gone, [and] the wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house.”
“Literally, neighborhoods are completely wiped out,” a local Republican congressman, Aaron Schock, told Fox News. “I’m looking at subdivisions of twenty to thirty homes and there’s not a home there.”
“The entire town of Washington is devastated,” he added.
“We have reports of homes being flattened, roofs being torn off,” Sara Sparkman, a spokeswoman for the health department of Tazewell County, Illinois, where Washington is located, said in a telephone interview with Reuters. “We have actual whole neighborhoods being demolished by the storm.
“Fortunately,” she added, “we are only hearing of minor injuries at this time.”Sparkman said the storm had caused damage in Washington and Pekin, south of Peoria.
A National Football League game between the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago was suspended amid high winds and heavy rain. Winds of over 70 mph lashed the city.
The Chicago Department of Aviation, which manages O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport, said that as of 1:15 p.m. central time both facilities were at a ground stop, meaning flights were neither arriving nor departing.
National Weather Service officials said several tornadoes has touched down in Illinois and Indiana. One hit near East Peoria in central Illinois where the Peoria Star Journal reported that 37 people were being treated for tornado-related injuries at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. Tens of thousands of residents have been left without electricity.
The weather service confirmed at least four tornadoes in Indiana. The storms have left at least 13,000 people across Indiana without power, according to Duke Energy.
Strong winds and atmospheric instability were expected to sweep across the central plains before pushing into the mid-Atlantic states and north-east by evening. Many of the storms were expected to become supercells, with the potential to produce tornadoes, large hail and destructive winds.
“People can fall into complacency because they don’t see severe weather and tornadoes, but we do stress that they should keep a vigilant eye on the weather and have a means to hear a tornado warning because things can change very quickly,” said Matt Friedlein, a weather service meteorologist.
Friedlein said that such strong storms are rare this late in the year because there usually is not enough heat from the sun to sustain the thunderstorms. But he said temperatures Sunday are expected to reach into the 60s and 70s, which he said is warm enough to help produce severe weather when it is coupled with winds, which are typically stronger this time of year than in the summer.
“You don’t need temperatures in the 80s and 90s to produce severe weather [because] the strong winds compensate for the lack of heating,” he said. “That sets the stage for what we call wind shear, which may produce tornadoes.”
He also said that the tornadoes this time a year happen more often than people might realize, pointing to a twister that hit the Rockford, Illinois, area in November 2010.