CHICAGO: A massive line of storms packing hail, lightning and tree-toppling winds began rolling through the Midwest on Wednesday evening and could affect more than one in five Americans from Iowa to Maryland before subsiding.
The Akron-Canton area was placed under a tornado and flood watch Wednesday as the storms were expected to pass through here overnight. The National Weather service was predicting hail, potentially damaging winds and a chance of tornadoes before noon today. Rainfall amounts by late afternoon could be as much as 3 inches on already saturated ground.
In Ohio, storms were causing minor outages late Wednesday. FirstEnergy Corp, which covers Cincinnati, Columbus and Akron, reported 627 customers were without power. An emergency management official in Morrow County told The Columbus Dispatch late Wednesday that there were reports of two possible tornadoes in the central Ohio county. Downed trees were blocking some area roads, but there were no reports of injuries.
Small tornadoes were reported Wednesday in Iowa and Illinois.
In the small town of Belmond, Iowa, about 90 miles north of Des Moines, Duwayne Abel, owner of Cattleman’s Steaks & Provisions restaurant, said a tornado swooped through his parking lot and demolished part of the building. No one was in the restaurant at the time.
“I was, oh, eight miles west of town and I looked toward town and I could see a funnel cloud, having no idea it was exactly where our restaurant was,” Abel said.
His wife and an employee were able to get out of the restaurant and sought shelter in a basement.
In addition to tornadoes, lightning and large hail, meteorologists were warning about the possibility of a weather event called a derecho (deh-RAY’-choh), which is a storm of strong straight-line winds spanning at least 240 miles. The storms are also likely to cause power outages that will be followed by oppressive heat, said Russell Schneider, director of the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. The center was using its highest alert level for parts of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
By late Wednesday, a derecho hadn’t developed, but conditions were still ripe for one, with more storms expected overnight, said Greg Carbin of the Storm Prediction Center. But, he added, “with each hour that goes by, it’s less likely.”
Derechoes, with winds of at least 58 mph, occur about once a year in the Midwest. Rarer than tornadoes but with weaker winds, derechoes produce damage over a much wider area.
All told, the area the weather service considered to be under heightened risk of dangerous weather included 74.7 million people in 19 states.
Last year, a derecho caused at least $1 billion in damage from Chicago to Washington, killing 13 people and leaving more than 4 million people without power.