Midwest Pummeled by Storms

October 28, 2010

A massive storm making its way through a big chunk of the United States brought a bit of everything: strong winds, rain, tornadoes and now even some snow for parts of the Midwest.

The storm packed wind gusts of up to 81 mph Oct. 26 as it howled across the Midwest and South, snapping trees and power lines, ripping off roofs and delaying flights. The storm continued its trek early on Oct. 27, with snow falling in the Dakotas and Minnesota, in the north central part of the country. More strong winds were in the forecast in several other states.

National Weather Service reports indicate as much as 8 inches snow fell in North Dakota and a blizzard warning was in effect for the state.

The unusual system mesmerized meteorologists because of its size and because it had barometric pressure that was similar to a Category 3 hurricane, but with much less destructive power.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the system’s pressure reading Tuesday was among the lowest ever in a non-tropical storm in the mainland U.S. Spokeswoman Susan Buchanan said the storm was within the top five in terms of low pressure, which brings greater winds.

The fast-moving storm blew in from the Pacific Northwest on the strength of a jet stream that is about one-third stronger than normal for this time of year, said David Imy, operations chief at the NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. As the system moved into the nation’s heartland, it drew in warm air needed to fuel thunderstorms. Then the winds intensified and tornadoes formed.

Sustained winds were about 35 to 40 mph and gusting much higher. A gust of 81 mph was recorded in Butlerville, Ohio, and 80 mph in Greenfield, Ind., according to NOAA.

Tornadoes whirled through Racine County, Wis., where two people were injured when a section of roof was torn off a tractor factory, and in Van Wert County, Ohio, near the Indiana border, where a barn was flattened and flipped over a tractor-trailer and camper. In Lincoln County, N.C., 11 people were injured and eight homes damaged when a possible tornado touched down, emergency management officials said. An apparent tornado on the Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga, Tenn., caused an accident that led to the closure of the highway and injured several people. A tornado also touched down in Peotone, Ill., where three people were injured when a home’s roof came off, and twisters were suspected in several other states.

The National Weather Service confirmed that eight tornadoes struck in Indiana, but that no serious damage or injuries were reported. It said Ohio saw three twisters.

In Chicago, about 500 flights were canceled and others delayed at O’Hare Airport, a major hub for American and United airlines. The storms also disrupted flights at the Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Minneapolis airports. Chicago’s 110-story Willis Tower, the country’s tallest building, closed the Skydeck observatory and retracted “The Ledge” attraction – four glass boxes that jut out from the building’s 103rd floor.

In suburban Chicago, Helen Miller, 41, was injured when a branch fell about 65 feet from a large tree, crashed into her car and impaled her abdomen. Doctors removed the branch and Miller’s husband said she asked him to hang on to it.

“She wants to save it for an art project or something,” Todd Miller told the Chicago Sun-Times. “She’s a bit of a free spirit, so I ran with it.”

Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington; Karen Hawkins, Carla K. Johnson, Tamara Starks and Lindsey Tanner in Chicago; David Aguilar in Detroit; John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan; Tom Davies in South Bend, Indiana; Jeannie Nuss in Columbus, Ohio; Doug Whiteman in Cleveland; Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee; Sofia A. Mannos in Washington D.C. and Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this story.

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