At least five people are dead after a storm swept across the Great Plains and Midwest on Wednesday, bringing record-breaking winds and reports of tornadoes across several states.
Tornadoes were reported in Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa, and fatalities due to the severe weather were confirmed in several states.
Iowa officials said a driver died Wednesday evening after the vehicle they were in was hit by a “strong gust of wind,” causing it to roll onto its side.
In Kansas, three people perished in car crashes related to the storm, and in Minnesota, an Olmsted County man was killed Wednesday when a 40-foot tree fell on him.
By Thursday, the storm was moving north of the Great Lakes and into Canada, with high winds, snow and hazardous conditions still reported in the upper Great Lakes region, according to the National Weather Service.
Still, as of Thursday morning, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were without electricity, according to poweroutage.us, which monitors utility reports.
According to the Storm Prediction Center, Wednesday’s winds were record-setting, with the most wind gusts of 75 mph or greater since at least 2004. There were 55 such gusts “and counting,” it said.
The National Weather Service noted that there were also preliminary reports of tornadoes across parts of Nebraska and Iowa, with one tornado reported in Minnesota. Storm survey teams will work to confirm whether they were tornadoes.
There were likely a few fast-moving, relatively weak tornadoes in south-central Nebraska, and the chance of damaging winds lingered after the thunderstorm threat largely passed, Ryan Pfannkuch, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Hastings, said.
Video released by the Nebraska State Patrol showed a big rig topple in front of a trooper on Interstate 80 near Lincoln on Wednesday afternoon. The driver was not injured.
The weather was “very unusual for December,” Bryon Miller, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Omaha/Valley office, said. “Going back at least 50 years there hasn’t been an event in eastern Nebraska or western Iowa like this in the month of December.”
Forecasters had warned of an “extremely powerful storm system” that would bring the threat of severe thunderstorms and damaging winds across the Great Plains and Upper Midwest on Wednesday night.
Roads in western Kansas, including a portion of Interstate 70, were closed due to blowing dust and crashes, the state Department of Transportation said.
Tractor-trailers in the state blew over and there were brownout conditions and close to zero visibility near Wakeeney, Kansas, and officials urged people to stay off the highways. Kansas State University Salinas said its campus suffered weather damage and was closed.
“If you don’t have to travel, don’t. Stay home,” the Kansas DOT had urged in a tweet.
Wildfires in Kansas caused and fueled by high winds led to evacuation orders for cities in Osborne, Russell and Rooks counties, NBC affiliate KSN of Wichita reported.
Residents were later allowed to return, Russell County Administrator John Fletcher told the station. A wildfire also prompted Sheridan County officials to evacuate a few homes near Quinter, according to The Associated Press.
Wednesday’s weather also caused air traffic controllers at Kansas City International Airport to evacuate the “tower cab” for a little less than an hour, the airport said.
The high winds also knocked down power lines and toppled a truck in Colorado, and prompted the closure of several roads, state and local officials said.
Parts of Jefferson County, Colorado, saw wind gusts of up to 95 mph Wednesday, the National Weather Service in Boulder said.
More than 500 flights at Denver International Airport were delayed and almost 150 were canceled, according to the flight-tracking site FlightAware.
In Colorado Springs, firefighters responded to hundreds of calls even as the roof of its headquarters was blown off, the fire department said.
The National Weather Service said Wednesday that one of those tornadoes, which devastated the Kentucky city of Mayfield and others, was an EF4 with 190 mph winds.
President Joe Biden visited Kentucky on Wednesday and pledged federal help.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the updated death toll from the quad-state tornado now stood at 75 and, after being above 100 earlier this week, the number of unaccounted was down to just 16.
Beshear also praised the president’s promise of federal help.
“The Federal government has done absolutely everything that we have asked them to do, and we’ve asked for some things that were hard for them to say yes on,” Beshear said.
He praised FEMA’s quick response, saying 700 agents were already on the ground in Kentucky, what he described as “one of the biggest, most robust responses that we have seen.”
“And I can’t believe this, but they’ve already made payments from FEMA — we’ve got at least $550,000 that has gone out the door — we’re on day six,” the governor said.