CHICAGO – A massive line of storms packing hail, lightning and tree-toppling winds rolled through the Midwest Wednesday evening driving people into basements for shelter, tearing down power lines and causing flooding in low-lying areas.
Forecasters predicted that by the time the storms were done, they could affect more than one in five Americans from Iowa to Maryland.
In the small town of Belmond, Iowa, about 90 miles north of Des Moines, Duwayne Abel, owner of Cattleman’s Steaks & Provisions restaurant, said a tornado swept through his business’ parking lot and demolished part of the building. No one was in the restaurant at the time.
“I was, oh, eight miles west of town and I looked toward town and I could see a funnel cloud, having no idea it was exactly where our restaurant was,” Abel said. His wife and an employee were able to get out of the restaurant and sought shelter in a basement.
Other small tornadoes were also reported in other parts of Iowa and in Illinois.
In addition to tornadoes, lightning and large hail, meteorologists warned about the possibility of a weather event called a derecho, which is a storm of strong straight-line winds spanning at least 240 miles.
By late Wednesday, a derecho hadn’t developed, but conditions were still ripe for one, with more storms expected overnight, said Greg Carbin of the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
But, he added, “with each hour that goes by, it’s less likely.”
In Wisconsin, authorities said thunderstorms packing heavy rain and high winds caused a Walmart roof to partially collapse. Lake Delton Fire Chief Darren Jorgenson says two employees had minor injuries, but no customers were hurt. Street flooding was reported in parts of the village of Boscobel in Grant County.
Even before the storms moved through, officials postponed Wednesday night’s Chicago White Sox game against the Toronto Blue Jays and canceled a symphony concert at the city’s downtown Millennium Park. The Metra commuter rail system temporarily halted all inbound and outbound trains, and Northwestern University canceled classes and finals at its campuses in Chicago and suburban Evanston. Airlines canceled more than 120 flights at O’Hare International Airport.