Severe weather hit Midwest regions of the United States on February 28 and 29, spawning several tornados that killed at least 12 people and caused widespread property damage, according to reports. The National Weather Service (NWS) has reported a preliminary estimate of 30 tornados in six states (Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky). Reports said the severe weather also brought strong winds, heavy rain and large hail to other states. Several states suffered power outages and widespread property and infrastructure damage has been reported. The deadly storm marks an early start to the 2012 tornado season in a region that is still recovering from record-breaking severe weather outbreaks in 2011. More than 500 people were killed by tornados in 2011, which was the deadliest tornado season since 1936 and the third worst on record, according to the NWS.
The U.S. Storm Prediction Center said the latest tornado outbreak was generated by a cold storm moving down from the Rocky Mountains and colliding with a warm front as it moved east. Although the Center has since downgraded its outlook for severe weather, it said a moderate risk remains in the region over the next 48 hours.
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The first significant tornado outbreak of 2012 occurred on February 28 and 29 when more than 30 tornados (a preliminary estimate) struck Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, according to the NWS. The resulting damage and disruption prompted disaster declarations in Illinois, Kansas and Missouri. Reports suggest the damage and disruption has been localized but severe, with the counties of Saline (Illinois), Wabaunsee (Kansas) and Taney (Missouri) particularly badly hit. Reports said a suspected tornado a half-mile wide also damaged more than 50 homes in southern Indiana and property damage was reported in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Elsewhere, severe thunderstorms also pounded Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee on February 29 before drifting towards the eastern seaboard.
The NWS has reported three tornado touchdowns in Illinois. Reports said the severe weather has caused widespread damage in the state. The city of Harrisburg in Saline County was particularly badly hit after an estimated EF4-rated tornado caused severe damage after staying on the ground for miles. At least six people were killed and more than 100 injured in Harrisburg after the tornado leveled much of the city (population of around 9,000 people), according to reports. Early estimates suggest the tornado packed winds up to 170 mph and damaged or destroyed up to 325 properties, smashing a strip mall and tearing a wall off the Harrisburg Medical Center. Reports said the scene in southern regions of Harrisburg was one of debris and collapsed houses. Commercial and residential buildings were also reportedly destroyed. Governor Pat Quinn issued a disaster declaration for the southern third of the state.
Significant damage has also been reported in Kansas after around five tornados touched down in the state. Properties were reportedly damaged in Wabaunsee County, with the small eastern town of Harveyville badly hit by an EF2-rated tornado. Reports said at least 14 people were injured there, with up to 40 percent of the town reduced to rubble. Governor Sam Brownback consequently declared a state of disaster emergency for Wabaunsee County. The governor’s office said numerous homes and a church were damaged in the county, with several trees and power lines downed.
Southern regions of Missouri were badly affected by the severe weather, with reports of eight tornados hitting the state on February 28. Officials said extensive damage occurred across Missouri and warned that the damage and debris pose significant risk to lives and property. The music resort city of Branson in Taney County was particularly badly affected after being hit by an EF2-rated tornado. Reports said the twister caused significant damage after hitting the ground for 22 miles, ripping roofs off buildings and damaging around five of Branson’s renowned music theaters as it moved through the city’s main strip. Reports said the city’s convention center and an attached Hilton hotel were also damaged, as was a portion of Branson Landing, a large shopping and entertainment complex. Governor Jay Nixon said the damage in Branson is expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars. More than 30 people were reported hurt in Branson, while two people were killed in the Missouri towns of Buffalo and Puxico. Extensive damage was also reported in the towns of Cassville, Lebanon and Oak Ridge. Governor Nixon has declared a state of emergency and deployed the National Guard to help with the cleanup.
Elsewhere, severe thunderstorms pounded Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee over the 48-hour period. At least three people were killed in Tennessee after the storm system moved over eastern regions of the state, according to reports.
Sources: Reuters News, BBC News, Agence France Presse, Associated Press, CNN News
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