A large tornado ripped through southeastern Missouri before dawn on Wednesday, killing at least five people and causing widespread destruction as the third in a series of deadly massive storms over the past two weeks struck the nation’s heartland.
Forecasters kept a wary eye out for more possible tornadoes, hail and extreme weather as this year’s early storm season continued. It has spawned dozens of tornadoes, mainly in the South and Midwest, that have killed at least 63 people. Just last weekend, confirmed or suspected tornadoes in at least eight states laid waste to neighborhoods across a broad swath of the country.
Midwest tornadoes have typically occurred later in the spring, but this year’s early spate of severe weather continues a trend seen over the past few years, said Bill Bunting, chief of forecast operations at the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
“A tornado definitely touched down, there is damage to homes, we know that, there have been people injured, we don’t know the extent” or if there are fatalities, said meteorologist Justin Gibbs with the weather service in Paducah, Kentucky.
Gibbs said it appears initially that the tornado was on the ground for 15-20 miles (24-32 kilometers) in the area about 90 miles (145 km) south of St. Louis. He said the weather service will send a survey team to the area later Wednesday to assess the damage and determine the strength of the tornado.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol had earlier reported suspected tornado damage with a widespread debris field and some injuries in Bolinger County in the state’s southeast near the communities of Grassy and Marble Hill. Sgt. Clark Parrott of the Missouri State Highway Patrol told KFVS-TV it was not immediately clear how many were injured.
Messages seeking more details on the overnight damage were left by The Associated Press with Missouri Highway Patrol and Bolinger County Sheriff’s office Wednesday morning.
The storms come after severe weather and possibly dozens of tornadoes killed at least 32 people days ago, meaning more potential misery for those whose homes were destroyed in Arkansas, Iowa and Illinois.
The fierce storms started last Friday and continued into the weekend spawned deadly tornadoes in 11 states as the system plodded through Arkansas and onto the South, Midwest and Northeast.
Schools in Little Rock canceled Wednesday’s classes because the storms were expected to move through the metro during morning rush hour, KFVS-TV reported.
At least two tornadoes were confirmed Tuesday in Illinois as storms targeted the state and eastern Iowa and southwest Wisconsin before nightfall.
The National Weather Service issued tornado warnings in Iowa and Illinois on Tuesday evening and said a confirmed twister was spotted southwest of Chicago near Bryant, Illinois. Officials said another tornado touched down Tuesday morning in the western Illinois community of Colona. Local news reports showed wind damage to some businesses there.
National Weather Service meteorologist John Gordon told reporters that a preliminary assessment showed the tornado touched down in Newburg, just south of downtown Louisville, with 90 mph winds and a width that likely spanned a football field. The area may have also been hit by a second tornado, Gordon said.
In Missouri, the tornado traversed rural Bollinger County, south of St. Louis, at a speed of about 45 mph for about 15 minutes sometime between 3:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. CT, National Weather Service meteorologist David Witten said.
The agency said the tornado appeared to be a high-end EF2, with estimated peak wind speeds of 130 mph.
“It was significant given how much damage it caused,” Witten said, adding: “It looks serious and bad.”
A preliminary assessment found that 87 buildings had been damaged, 12 of them destroyed, Missouri State Highway Patrol Superintendent Eric Olson said.
A tornado that tore across 15 miles of southern Iowa on Tuesday was a recorded as a high-end EF-1, with peak winds of 110 mph and a maximum width that stretched 50 yards, according to the National Weather Service.
Several buildings were damaged, but no injuries or deaths were reported, the agency said.
In Illinois, a local office for the agency said a tornado with peak winds of 160 mph and an EF3 rating struck an area southwest of Peoria on Tuesday night, injuring four people.
The twister lasted more than 20 minutes and covered roughly 18 miles, the agency said.
There have been at least 478 tornado reports across 25 states this year, doubling the average for this point in a single year.
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