Derecho blasts northern Plains with 100-mph winds, leaves 2 dead
As an extreme weather event stampeded across South Dakota Thursday evening, images that emerged on social media called to mind the 1930s Dust Bowl era.
A destructive line of storms rips across Nebraska and South Dakota on May 12, leaving damage scattered all over the region.
The multiday severe weather episode across the Plains quickly escalated on Thursday, with thunderstorms delivering destructive winds and massive hailstones across the region a day after a meteorologist was killed in a crash during a preceding storm.
The extreme weather event has been declared a derecho, a long-lived thunderstorm complex that is sometimes called an "inland hurricane" due to the extensive wind damage that often occurs. According to the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), there were 55 significant hurricane-force wind gusts. "[Thursday was] the day with the second-most preliminary hurricane-force wind gusts since at least 2004," SPC said.
Furious winds roared across the Plains Thursday with wind gusts over 100 mph tearing across states from Kansas to South Dakota to Wisconsin, taking down power lines and trees, kicking up walls of dust and even rolling semi-trucks.
"It was very forceful, very dark, it was very quiet up until the wind hit. Almost instantaneous, tree branches and roof shingles and stuff started coming off structures," Arlington, South Dakota, Fire Chief Trevor Keating told AccuWeather Meteorologist Tony Laubach in an interview.
A fatality was reported near Blomkest, Minnesota, about 85 miles west of Minneapolis, after winds toppled a grain bin onto a car, according to a report from the SPC. The report didn't note the exact speed of the wind; however, gusts over 90 mph were recorded in the area.
The Associated Press reported an additional fatality due to the severe weather in Colton, South Dakota, approximately 15 miles northwest of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after a person was struck by storm debris.
In Garfield County, Nebraska, near Burwell, the wind knocked about a 15x15 foot horse barn on the west side of town, and a roof was blown off the grandstand at the fairgrounds. About 25 trees were reportedly uprooted, according to the SPC.
Brookings, South Dakota, was especially hard hit by the storms and wind. The Brookings Health System reported a surge of injuries following the storm, and several buildings were demolished due to the destructive wind gusts.
Hundreds of storm reports continued to flood in as the evening progressed, noting everything from hailstones with a diameter of 2 inches in locations in Kansas, Wisconsin and Minnesota, to a potential tornado damaging two houses and the side of a school in Castlewood, South Dakota, and wind reports that frequently surpassed 80 mph.
One wind gust in Hutchinson County, located in the southeastern portion of South Dakota, reached 107 mph outside of Tripp around 4:25 p.m., CDT, according to one NWS report.
AccuWeather forecasters had previously warned that wind gusts of 70-90 mph were possible with the strongest storms, with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 110 mph.
As the storms continued to develop, thousands of customers in South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin were experiencing power outages Thursday, according to PowerOutage.US. By Friday morning, outages in Minnesota topped 53,000 while 21,000 were in the dark across South Dakota.
Around 8:41 p.m., local time, Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer, who was covering the storms in South Dakota, reported that I-29 was closed south of Watertown, South Dakota, due to numerous semi-trucks that had been blown over.
The wind from the storms also kicked up plumes of dust near Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which sits a little to the northeast of Hutchinson County.
"Dust so thick in the air you can taste it, and it's blown into every crack in the house," NWS Sioux Falls Lead Meteorologist Matthew Dux said over Twitter Thursday afternoon.
Local emergency management advised against travel later Thursday evening as emergency crews tried to assess the storm damage, which included downed power lines and tree limbs across the city.
"Extra traffic is making things difficult and causing more problems," the Sioux Falls Fire Rescue said over Twitter, adding a request or people to stay home and not drive around simply to view the damage.
Severe thunderstorms brought extremely strong winds to northern parts of the U.S. on May 12, leading to incredible scenes.
The system was the latest in a multiday severe weather outbreak across the region, including Minnesota where one person died in a crash and at least three others were wounded.
Meteorologist Martha Lilian Llanos Rodríguez, 30, of Mexico City, Mexico, was killed in a three-vehicle crash on Interstate 90 in southwestern Minnesota Wednesday evening, the Minnesota State Police said.
All of the vehicles had been traveling on I-90 eastbound when they encountered downed power lines associated with the storms. The driver of a 2021 Chevrolet Hatchback, Chilean meteorologist Diego Alvaro Campos, 37, had stopped the car to avoid the power lines when the vehicle was struck by a Freightliner semi-truck. Campos sustained non-life-threatening injuries, as did the passenger Aldo Alberto Viscarra-Avilez, 33, according to the incident report.
Bradford Scott Barrett, 42, and Llanos were also passengers in the Chevrolet, with Barrett sustaining life-threatening injuries in the collision.
Barrett and Campos are both ambassadors of the American Meteorological Society Committee on Hispanic and Latinx Advancement (AMS CHALA).
"We were doing some storm chasing," Campos told the Star Tribune. "The storm was really bad, and we were trying to get out of there." He added that this had been Llanos's first time storm chasing.
The third vehicle involved, a 2009 Pontiac G6, collided into the power lines, and its driver, Tyler Scott Gilbery, 23, was taken to Sanford Worthington Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Jaskaran Singh, 26, the driver of the semi, was uninjured.
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