Sunday, December 17, 2017

Storms spawn twisters that punch into Midwest

OMAHA, Neb. — Tornadoes were spotted across the Midwest and Plains on Saturday as an outbreak of unusually strong weather seized the region, and forecasters sternly warned that "life-threatening" weather could intensify overnight.

Storms were reported in Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma. Emergency officials in Iowa said that high winds or a tornado damaged a hospital in Creston, but no injuries were reported. Authorities also said about 75 percent of the small western Iowa community of Thurman was destroyed, with no injuries reported there either.

In Nebraska, baseball-sized hail shattered windows and ripped siding from houses. In Oklahoma, more than 5,000 people gathered for a rattlesnake hunt in Woods County scattered when a tornado touched down there, said the county's emergency management director, Steve Foster.

National Weather Service forecasters issued sobering outlooks that the worst of the weather would hit around nightfall, predicting that conditions were right for exceptionally strong tornadoes. Weather officials and emergency management officials worried most about what would happen if strong storms hit when people were sleeping, not paying attention to weather reports and unlikely to hear warning sirens. When it's dark, it's also more difficult for weather spotters to clearly see funnel clouds or tornadoes.

While there were no fatalities as of Saturday evening, storm spottings were plentiful. Storms were erupting faster than storm spotters could tally them all. The danger kicked off Saturday morning when tornado sirens sounded in Oklahoma City around dawn.

One of the suspected tornadoes in central Oklahoma hit near the small town of Piedmont, and followed a similar path as a tornado last May that killed several people, Mayor Valerie Thomerson said.

In Iowa, Thurman, a town of about 250 people, was severely damaged by a possible tornado. Fremont County Emergency Management Director Mike Crecelius said that about 75 percent of the town was destroyed, but there were no injuries or deaths.

In Creston, about 75 miles from Des Moines, the Greater Regional Medical Center suffered roof damage and had some of its windows blown out by a storm, said John Benson, a spokesman for Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Patients were being moved to a hospital in Osceola, about 30 miles away. No injuries were reported.

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