Weather & Natural Disasters

Severe Storms Bring Tornadoes to Midwest, Sweep Toward Northeast

Alistair Jamieson, Richie Duchon, and Shamar Walters

A storm system that has already unleashed tornadoes and flattened homes across the Midwest threatened the Northeast on Tuesday with heavy rain and strong winds.

Some 70 million Americans from the Ohio Valley to Maine faced 70 mph winds and 2-inch hail, as well as the possibility of tornadoes.

The latest bout of nasty weather comes as people from South Dakota to Illinois were cleaning up from the line of storms on Monday, a weather event known as a derecho for its fierce and sustained wind damage. At least 12 people were injured in Illinois — where one twister packed winds of up to 160 mph — but there were no reported deaths.

Wind as strong as 122 mph was recorded in South Dakota, and baseball-sized hail fell in Indiana. The storms ripped up trees and downed power lines.

Some 13 tornadoes were reported in four states, according to The Weather Channel. In Illinois, where at least four twisters were confirmed by the National Weather Service, more than 8,300 customers were still without power Tuesday afternoon. Homes in the village of Sublette, west of Chicago, were leveled.

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"It is a miracle when you see the devastation" that no one was killed, Gov. Bruce Rauner said.

The storm system was moving swiftly across the Northeast on Tuesday, forecasters warned. Six states from West Virginia to New Jersey were under a severe thunderstorm watch through 11 p.m. ET, the National Weather Service said, with major airports in Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore seeing delays. About 144,000 power customers in southeastern Pennsylvania were without electricity late Tuesday afternoon, reported NBC Philadelphia.

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Meanwhile, parts of Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and southern Maine were under a tornado watch through 11 p.m., ET.

"Lightning strikes are also an issue for people heading out Tuesday," Weather Channel meteorologist Kevin Roth said.

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The only good news: The storms lowered the temperatures that have baked much of the nation in a record-setting heatwave.

On Monday, the cold front responsible for the outbreak caused the derecho — a line of especially powerful winds that caused damage for at least 240 miles.

See WGN-TV's tweet here.

"Unfortunately we've had a few storms already this year, but we don't usually have storms that devastate such a large area," Lee County Sheriff John Simonton told NBC News.

He said five people had to be rescued at a camping resort in Woodhaven Lakes, near Sublette, Illinois, after becoming trapped in homes destroyed by a tornado. The twister was about a quarter-mile-wide and at least 111 to 135 mph in strength, the National Weather Service said in a preliminary finding.

Most people suffered bumps, bruises and scratches — but one person's injuries were serious enough to warrant being transferred to a hospital, Simonton said.

More than 15 fire departments and technical rescue teams, as well as Illinois State Police, were involved in the rescue and recovery operation. "We are making sure every resident has been checked on," Simonton added.

Particularly hard-hit was Coal City, a community of approximately 5,000 residents about 60 miles southwest of Chicago, where the National Weather Service confirmed a twister touched down. The "long track" tornado was on the ground for at least 16-1/2 miles and had peak winds of 160 mph.

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The area saw at least one tornado just east of Interstate 55 — cutting a destructive path about three quarters of a mile wide.

Sgt. Thomas Logan of the Coal City Police Department said there were no initial reports of fatalities, but there was widespread damage and flooding from heavy rains.

The storm took a "devastating path. Unfortunately it went through the heart of our village," he said.

Recovery efforts were hampered by fallen trees. Among the buildings damaged was a fire station in Coal City.

The community was also hit by a tornado in 2013. The damage from Monday's severe weather was "eerily close" to what the area experienced two years ago, Coal City Mayor Tarry Halliday said.

In Millington, Michigan, at least two homes were destroyed when a twister reportedly touched down.

"If we weren't in the basement, we wouldn't have made it," resident Jessica Clark told WEYI.