79°F
weather icon Clear

Hurricane-force winds leave devastation across Midwest

Updated August 11, 2020 - 6:27 am

IOWA CITY, Iowa — A rare storm packing 100 mph winds and with power similar to an inland hurricane swept across the Midwest, blowing over trees, flipping vehicles, causing widespread property damage and leaving hundreds of thousands without power as it moved through Chicago and into Indiana and Michigan.

The storm known as a derecho lasted several hours Monday as it tore from eastern Nebraska across Iowa and parts of Wisconsin and Illinois, had the wind speed of a major hurricane, and likely caused more widespread damage than a normal tornado, said Patrick Marsh, science support chief at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

In northern Illinois, the National Weather Service reported a wind gust of 92 mph near Dixon, about 100 miles west of Chicago, and the storm left downed trees and power lines that blocked roadways in Chicago and its suburbs. After leaving Chicago, the most potent part of the storm system moved over north central Indiana by late afternoon.

“It ramped up pretty quick” around 7 a.m. Central time in Eastern Nebraska. I don’t think anybody expected widespread winds approaching 100, 110 mph,” Marsh said.

A derecho is not quite a hurricane. It has no eye and its winds come across in a line. But the damage it is likely to do spread over such a large area is more like an inland hurricane than a quick more powerful tornado, Marsh said. He compared it to a devastating Super Derecho of 2009, which was one of the strongest on record and traveled more than 1,000 miles in 24 hours, causing $500 million in damage, widespread power outages and killing a handful of people.

Version of a hurricane

“This is our version of a hurricane,” said Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Victor Gensini. He said Monday’s derecho will go down as one of the strongest in recent history and be one of the nation’s worst weather events of 2020.

Several people were injured and widespread property damage was reported in Marshall County in central Iowa after 100 mph winds swept through the area, said its homeland security coordinator Kim Elder.

Elder said winds blew over trees, flipped cars, downed power lines, ripped up road signs and tore roofs off buildings, some of which caught fire.

“We had quite a few people trapped in buildings and cars,” Elder said, adding that the extent of injuries was unknown and no fatalities had been reported. “We’re in life-saving mode right now.”

Marshalltown Mayor Joel Greer declared a civil emergency, telling residents to stay home and off the streets so that first responders could respond to calls.

MidAmerican Energy said nearly 101,000 customers in the Des Moines area were without power after the storm moved through the area. Reports from spotters filed with the National Weather Service in Des Moines had winds in excess of 70 mph.

Roof damage to homes and buildings was reported in several Iowa cities, including the roof of a hockey arena in Des Moines. Across the state, large trees fell on cars and houses. Some semi-trailers flipped over or were blown off highways.

Grain damage

Farmers reported that some grain bins were destroyed and fields were flattened, but the extent of damage to Iowa’s agriculture industry wasn’t immediately clear.

MidAmerican spokeswoman Tina Hoffman said downed trees made it difficult in some locations for workers to get to power lines. In some cases, power line poles were snapped off.

“It’s a lot of tree damage. Very high winds. It will be a significant effort to get through it all and get everybody back on,” Hoffman said. “It was a big front that went all the way through the state.”

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had “both significant and widespread damage throughout the city,” said public safety spokesman Greg Buelow. Tens of thousands of people in the metro area were without power.

“We have damage to homes and businesses, including siding and roofs damaged,” he said. “Trees and power lines are down throughout the entire city.”

Cedar Rapids on Monday night issued a 10 p.m. curfew that will continue until further notice, as crews worked to clean up fallen debris.

Derecho can hover in place

What makes a derecho worse than a tornado is how long it can hover in one place and how large an area the high winds hit, Marsh said. He said winds of 80 mph or even 100 mph can stretch for “20, 30, 40 or God forbid, 100 miles.”

What happened Monday morning was the result of unstable, super moist air that had parked for days over the northern plains and finally ramped up into a derecho.

“They are basically self-sustaining amoebas of thunderstorms,” Gensini said. “Once they get going like they did across Iowa, it’s really hard to stop these suckers.”

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.

The storms raced over parts of eastern Nebraska before 9 a.m. Monday, dropping heavy rains and high winds. Strong straight-line winds pushed south into areas that include Lincoln and Omaha, National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Barjenbruch said.

“Once that rain-cooled air hit the ground, it surged over 100 miles, sending incredibly strong winds over the area,” Barjenbruch said.

Omaha Public Power District reported more than 55,500 customers without power in Omaha and surrounding communities.

Marsh said there’s concern about widespread power outages across several states. Add high heat, people with medical conditions that require power and the pandemic, and he said “it becomes dire pretty quickly.”

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Teigen, Legend reveal loss of new baby

According to a tweet from singer John Legend’s account, he and wife Chrissy Teigen lost their new son, Jack, shortly after birth.

 
28K at Disney theme parks headed for layoffs

Disney’s parks closed last spring as the pandemic started spreading in the U.S. The Florida parks reopened this summer, but the California parks have yet to reopen.

Breonna Taylor case grand jury records to be made public

Kentucky’s attorney general has acknowledged that he never asked the grand jury to consider homicide charges against police in the killing of Breonna Taylor.

Fueled by dry winds, fire rages in wine country — PHOTOS

Giant blazes taking down buildings, residents fleeing their homes, exhausted firefighters working around the clock: These are some of the scenes from the wildfire that exploded in the Northern California wine country.

 
Coronavirus deaths pass 1M mark worldwide

The worldwide death toll from the coronavirus eclipsed 1 million on Tuesday, nine months into a crisis that has devastated the global economy, tested world leaders’ resolve, pitted science against politics and forced multitudes to change the way they live, learn and work.

3 killed in Northern California wildfire; thousands flee

Northern Californias wine country was on fire again Monday as strong winds fanned flames in the already scorched region, destroying homes and prompting orders for nearly 70,000 people to evacuated. Meanwhile, three people died in a separate fire further north in the state.

Tax revelation could tarnish image that fueled Trump’s rise

The New York Times on Sunday revealed that President Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016, the year he won the presidency, and in 2017, his first year in office.

Toni Morrison, ‘Captain Underpants’ books among most ‘challenged’

Toni Morrison is on the list. So are John Green and Harper Lee. And John Steinbeck and Margaret Atwood. All wrote books that were among the 100 most subjected to censorship efforts over the past decade, as compiled by the American Library Association.

Power shut off for thousands in California to avert fires

The nation’s largest electric utility on Sunday temporarily cut power to thousands of Northern California residents to prevent wildfires while a new fire in Napa County forced people from their homes amid hot, windy weather.

NY Times: Trump paid $750 in US income taxes in 2016, 2017

President Donald Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes the year he ran for president and in his first year in the White House, according to a report Sunday in The New York Times.