Storm Could Bring Destructive Winds to Central U.S.

A potentially destructive storm system was expected to generate unusually powerful winds that could cause power outages, hamper travel and possibly spawn tornadoes as it moved through parts of the central United States on Wednesday, forecasters said.

The National Weather Service said the storm could spin off severe thunderstorms and tornadoes in the Mississippi River Valley, just days after tornadoes whipped through at least six states — Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee — on Friday, causing widespread destruction and killing at least 88 people.

On Wednesday, the storm system was building in strength as it traveled from the Four Corners region, where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet, the Weather Service said. A tornado watch was in effect through 8 p.m. Central time in parts of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota, the National Weather Service said.

It was on track to sweep into the upper Great Lakes on Wednesday, bringing high winds that could exceed 70 miles per hour in some locations. In Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado, wind gusts of 75 m.p.h. could spike even higher, possibly to 90 miles per hour.

Strong winds and dense fog were forecast to hamper travel in Minnesota and northeast South Dakota through Thursday, while an onslaught of cold air could turn rain into snow, the Weather Service said.

The same dense fog and wind conditions were moving through Taylor County in north-central Wisconsin, the Weather Service said.

The impact was already being felt in some places on Wednesday afternoon. Denver International Airport said high winds could very likely cause flight delays. In Colorado Springs, some schools closed early on Wednesday or announced that they would shift to remote learning there, according to local news reports.

Schools also closed early in Iowa, where record temperatures reached the lower 70s and wind gusts of up to 75 m.p.h. were reported.

“The storm system is unprecedented,” said Andrew Ansorge, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Des Moines. “We don’t have anything to compare it to.”

The storm system, he added, “is bringing a lot of warm and moist air.”

“Off the charts is the best way to say it,” he said, adding that a secondary “punch of winds” of 75 m.p.h. or higher was expected in the evening.

A.J. Mumm, the emergency management director for Polk County, Iowa, which includes Des Moines, said in an interview that 98 of the state’s 99 counties were under high-wind warnings. School districts were warned on Tuesday to let students out early on Wednesday, and public employees were being sent home.

In their briefings, he said, forecasters were using terms like “unprecedented” and “historic” to describe the wind speeds, which stand out because they are not associated with thunderstorms.

“Of course, those are attention-getters,” Mr. Mumm said. “It is a storm that we are taking very seriously.”

Starting Wednesday afternoon, he said, officials were expecting a “rough 12 hours” of high winds followed by a line of thunderstorms and then another blast of wind.

Transportation officials were shutting down bridges and warning drivers — especially those with “high profile” vehicles like buses, tractor-trailers and recreational vehicles — to stay off the roads, Mr. Mumm said.

Portions of Western Iowa and southeastern South Dakota were bracing for winds with gusts of up to 65 m.p.h. until midnight local time, powerful enough to topple trees and power lines. Widespread power outages were expected, Mr. Mumm and the Weather Service predicted.

“Its impacts will be felt north and south in a couple-hundred-mile swath,” he said.

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