Tornadoes Rip Midwest; Early Reports Say 4 Dead

Update: 1:36 p.m. EST

NU Online News Service, Feb. 29, 12:00 p.m. EST

A line of severe storms ripped through the Midwest yesterday causing severe damage from Oklahoma into Illinois and leaving four dead, according to reports.

The storms were concentrated in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois with the northern part of Arkansas experiencing hail and high winds, according to the National Weather Service. The NWS says there were a total of 14 confirmed tornadoes.

Reports say that the city of Branson, Mo., was amongst the hardest hit areas.

The storms, which moved into the area last night into early this morning, left numerous injuries and a trail of destruction, damaging some historic buildings in Branson, say early reports.

Catastrophe modelers were still assessing the storm’s aftermath.

Matthew Nielson, model product manager for RMS, notes that the number of reported tornados that struck region is preliminary, but reports state extensive damage in some areas.

A state of emergency was declared in Harveyville, Kan.

Branson is about 80 miles from Joplin, Mo., where a severe tornado there last May killed 116 people.

There is a slight risk of severe thunderstorms across parts of the Ohio and Tennessee Valley, the lower Mississippi Valley, the Carolinas and the mid-Atlantic over the next 48 hours.

Neena Saith, RMS director, model product management, told National Underwriter that it is still a little early to gauge the insurance or economic losses from the tornados, but it appears that Harrisburg, Ill., was the worst hit with 300 to 400 properties affected, but she emphasized that those are still preliminary counts subject to change.

She says the storm remains active as it moves across the United States and could cause even more damage over the next day or two.

As for the likelihood that this year’s tornado season could be as active as last, there are indicators that the numbers could be just as bad, but the areas impacted could be further north, ranging from Mississippi into Michigan.

The change in the cold phase in the Pacific brought on by La Nina is dissipating, says Saith, and we are now entering a neutral or El Nino period that could alter the direction of the tornado outbreak.

She says that warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, which are measuring a degree higher than last year, could mean an increased clash in cold and warm air over the United States that could also increase tornado activity.

Cautioned Saith, “We can draw broad conclusions, but that may not always hold true and other areas of the county may be at risk as well.” 

Story was updated at 1:36 p.m. EST with comments from RMS

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