Tornadoes, ice, and snow knock out power across the Midwest

Cleanup begins in Missouri and Arkansas, as a strong storm system heads for eastern Ohio and the mid-Atlantic. Meanwhile, Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Wisconsin face ice and snow.

Danny Johnston/AP
A flag flutters over what remains of the sanctuary of the Botkinburg Foursquare Church in Botkinburg, Ark., on Thursday, after a severe storm struck the building late Wednesday. The National Weather Service is surveying areas Thursday to determine whether tornadoes or strong winds caused the damage.

Severe storms and tornadoes swept across Missouri and Arkansas Wednesday night, as ice, snow, and high winds pounded Minnesota and South Dakota, causing widespread power outages and building damage but, so far, only minor injuries during the night.

Snow and thunder storms are not unusual for these regions in mid-April, but the long duration and “bizarre combination of freezing rain, snow, large hail and lightning” is, reports the Weather Channel.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) declared a state of emergency Wednesday night, as reports of tornado touchdowns were confirmed in the St. Louis area. Power company Ameren Missouri estimates that 27,000 customers in the area were without power Thursday morning.

"This was a strong system of storms that caused damage to communities in several areas of our state," Governor Nixon said in a statement. "We will continue to work closely with local officials to assess damages and provide any needed assistance."

One of the hardest hit areas is Hazelwood, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, where more than 24 homes have been severely damaged, Mayor Mike Robinson told the Associated Press. Emergency workers have checked all the homes, and no one has been seriously injured.

A.J. Goewert, a pharmacy technician, was working at Gifts, Scripts, and More pharmacy when the brunt of the storm hit the area. He told the St. Louis Dispatch that the storm tore holes in the roof and lifted goods off shelves.

"There was basically a wall of bright white light came through the area," Mr. Goewert said.

Another tornado damaged at least 33 homes and injured three people in Arkansas' Van Buren County, about 75 miles north of Little Rock, reported CNN.

"If the tornado would have come an hour and a half later, we would have been caught in it," Senior Pastor Ester Bass told CNN, whose Botkinburg Foursquare Church was severely damaged by the tornado.

The storm system is moving toward the southeast, and the National Weather Service is forecasting possible tornadoes, hail, and high winds for eastern Ohio, the Tennessee River Valleys, and even the mid-Atlantic region.

Tornadoes can occur at anytime during the year if the conditions are right, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but peak season in the southern plains is May into early June, and June or July in the northern plains.  

The severe weather season in Arkansas started late this year because of cool temperatures in March, John Robinson, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock, told CNN. Six tornadoes have been reported this year, which is half the normal number.

The storms have also left people without power in Illinois and Minnesota. Nearly 3,000 people are still without power in southern Illinois, after a night of 50 m.p.h. winds and golf-ball-size hail. In Minnesota, the town of Worthington is using backup generator to provide electricity to sections of town after high winds and several inches of snow fell.

"With the generation that we have available, we are conducting rolling blackouts through the community," Scott Hain, public utilities manager, told Minnesota Public Radio. "From what we're hearing from the folks that own the transmission that's down right now, is we expect that we'll be operating under this same scenario at least through the rest of today and possibly into tomorrow as well."

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) issued an executive order activating the National Guard to help local and county governments with the cleanup.

• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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