Tornadoes Leave One Dead in Central US and 500,000 in the Dark

By Brian K. Sullivan | December 16, 2021

A powerful storm that spawned tornadoes across the Midwest and Great Plains killed at least one person, ripped trees from the ground and knocked out power to more than 500,000 homes and businesses.

Winds gusted to 90 miles (145 kilometers) per hour or more in parts of the central U.S. as the storm combined with already stiff breezes and warm air to set record-breaking temperatures across the region. Wednesday set the record for the most gusts of 75 mph or more since 2004, with 55 reported, the U.S. Storm Prediction Center said in a tweet.

A steady wind of 21 mph was blowing at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, where the temperature had dropped to 42 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius), down from 61 earlier, around 7 a.m. local time. Wednesday’s high reached a record 66 degrees.

“I cannot recall a system like this in recent memory,” said Rich Otto, a forecaster with the U.S. Weather Prediction Center. “Today things look quieter and that is good news.”

The low pressure system has moved into Canada and high wind warnings have been posted throughout southern Ontario by Environment and Climate Change Canada. The agency said power outages are possible through Thursday.

The storm struck a week after a devastating outbreak of tornadoes last week killed at least 75 people in Kentucky and neighboring states, including collapsing an Amazon warehouse in Illinois.

As of 8:45 a.m. New York time, 555,141 customers in eight Midwestern and Plains states were without power, according to, which tracks outages reported on utility websites. An additional 35,927 are blacked out in California after heavy snowfall in the Sierra Nevada.

Storm Damage

Damage was reported from New Mexico to Minnesota from winds, which caused more widespread impacts than the tornadoes spawned by the storm. Aircraft were damaged and a radio tower collapsed in New Mexico, power lines were downed throughout the region and there were numerous reports of toppled trees and roofs ripped off buildings, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

“OK, nocturnal mid-December thunderstorms along the north shore of Lake Superior by Canada. When I was an undergrad meteorology student in the 70s at Michigan, predicting such an event would occur in my career would have seemed ludicrous!” Jeff Masters, a meteorologist for Yale Climate Connections, wrote in a tweet.

In addition to the winds, temperatures rose to record highs on Wednesday across the Great Plains. In Topeka, Kansas, the high reached 76 degrees; 74 in Omaha; 70 in Sioux City, Iowa; and 74 in Des Moines, the weather service said.

— With assistance by David R Baker

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