Inland hurricane-like storm sweeps US midwest, leaving widespread damage

A rare wind storm with power similar to an inland hurricane swept across the midwest on Monday, blowing over trees, flipping vehicles, causing widespread property damage and leaving tens of thousands without power.

]The storm known as a derecho lasted several hours as it tore across eastern Nebraska, Iowa and parts of Wisconsin, had the wind speed of a major hurricane, and probably 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.

It’s 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.

“This is our version of a hurricane,” Victor Gensini, a Northern Illinois University meteorology professor, said in an interview.

Gensini said this derecho will go down as one of the strongest ones in recent history and be one of the worst weather events of 2020 for the nation.

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

She said that the winds blew trees over, ripped road signs out of the ground, blew away roofs and damaged fencing.

She said some people reported their cars flipping over from the wind, having power lines fall on them and getting injured when hit by flying debris. Dozens of cars at one factory had their windshields blown out. Buildings have also caught on fire, she said.

“We’re in life-saving mode right now,” Elder said.

Marshalltown’s 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.

Roof damage to homes and buildings was reported in several Iowa cities, including the roof of a hockey arena in Des Moines.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has “both significant and widespread damage throughout the city”, said a public safety spokesman, Greg Buelow.

What happened is unstable super-moist air has parked over the northern plains for days on end and it finally ramped up on Monday morning 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.”

Derechos, with winds of at least 58mph, occur about once a year in the midwest. Rarer than tornadoes but with weaker winds, derechoes produce damage over a much wider area.