Hurricane-force winds, dust storm blast Upper Midwest

WEATHER NEWS: Hurricane-force winds, dust storm blast Upper Midwest

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A violent complex of storms roared through the Upper Midwest on Thursday evening, unleashing destructive wind gusts over 100 mph while stirring up a towering wall of dust.

The National Weather Service received more than 200 reports of damaging winds from Kansas to Wisconsin — but the most severe damage focused in a corridor from eastern Nebraska into southwest Minnesota, including eastern South Dakota and northwest Iowa. Significant structural damage was reported in this zone and about 70,000 people were without power Thursday evening.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported one person was killed after a grain bin fell on a car in Kandiyohi County, Minn., which is about 85 miles west of the Twin Cities.

The dust cloud swept up by the storm produced scenes reminiscent of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Technically called a “haboob,” it swallowed entire communities as the storm complex, racing northeast at breakneck speeds of 65 to 85 mph, turned day into night.

Producing widespread damage along an extensive path, the storm complex met the criteria of a derecho — the meteorological term for an arcing, fast-moving line of violent storms whose damage can be comparable to a hurricane.

The evening’s most extreme wind gust — 107 mph — was clocked in Hutchinson County, S.D., which is about 50 miles west of Sioux Falls.

Other top gusts included:

  • 102 mph in Deuel County, S.D.
  • 97 mph in Madison, S.D.
  • 96 mph in Wentworth, S.D.
  • 94 mph in Madison, Minn.
  • 90 mph in Huron, S.D.
  • 89 mph in Ord, Neb.
  • 80 mph in Artichoke, Minn.
  • 79 mph in Graceville, Minn.
  • 75 mph in Canby, Minn.

As of 10:30 p.m. Eastern time, the Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center had received 55 reports of winds gusting over 74 mph. second most on record for a calendar day. The recordholder for the most 74+ mph gusts occurred less than six months ago: Dec. 15, 2021.

Historic wind storm slams central U.S., unleashes rare December tornadoes

The Weather Service also issued numerous tornado warnings due to small areas of rotation embedded within the bowing storm complex. Just two twisters had been confirmed through 9:30 p.m. — one of which damaged two homes and the north side of a school in Castlewood, S.D., which is about 80 miles north of Sioux Falls.

Reports to the Weather Service indicated that the derecho’s high winds uprooted trees, downed wires, flattened fences, blew off shingles and even peeled off entire roofs in some instances. Numerous sheds and barns were destroyed.

The Weather Service also received multiple reports of tractor trailers blown over; in Holt County, Neb., one person was injured.

The Weather Service had highlighted the areas hardest hit declaring a level 4 out of 5 risk of severe thunderstorms Thursday morning and then issued a “particularly dangerous situation” severe thunderstorm watch in the afternoon, reserved for the most serious storm potential.

Record heat fueling violent storms in central U.S.

As the storms closed in, it issued dire warnings which triggered Wireless Emergency Alerts. The warnings called for winds of 80 to 100 mph as the storms bolted northeastward. In a warning for portions of west-central Minnesota, the Weather Service office in the Twin cities wrote: “THESE ARE DESTRUCTIVE STORMS,” noting they could produce 100 mph winds. “You are in a life-threatening situation,” the warning stated.

The event was, in some ways, reminiscent of the Iowa derecho of August 2020, the most costly thunderstorm disaster in U.S. history.

The storm complex was fueled by a sprawling heat dome responsible for setting record highs from Texas to Maine. The hottest temperatures — relative to normal — focused in the Upper Midwest. The storms erupted as this hot air was met by much cooler air encroaching from the northwest.

As with the violent thunderstorm and tornado outbreaks in December, the intensity of this event raises questions about the possible role of human-caused climate change. The December outbreaks were similarly fueled by record-breaking temperatures which climate change makes more probable.

December tornadoes aren’t rare, but the quad-state outbreak was something totally different

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