Lighting flashes over the Chicago skyline.
(Photo: Scott Eisen, AP)
A mammoth storm system blew east Thursday after pounding parts of the Upper Midwest with high winds and possible tornadoes but failing to wreak the havoc weather forecasters had feared.
Meteorologists still warned about the possibility of a derecho - a storm featuring heavy rain and strong, straight-line winds with gusts up to 80 mph that can topple trees and power lines with tornado-like devastation.
But by early Thursday, a derecho hadn't developed. "With each hour that goes by, it's less likely," said Greg Carbin of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.The National Weather Service predicted increased risks for the mid- to southern-Atlantic region from noon into the evening Thursday. A severe thunderstorm watch is imminent for eastern West Virginia, eastern and central Maryland, Delaware, northern and central North Carolina and northern Tennessee.
Thunderstorm watches were issued Thursday morning into the early afternoon for central and eastern Kentucky, southern Ohio and parts of West Virginia through the early afternoon. The forecast predicts gusts of 70 mph and hail.
Earlier, authorities in Ohio reported that high winds from possible tornadoes had damaged barns in the northwest and left thousands in the Buckeye State without power.
The National Weather Service said two tornadoes touched down in northern Iowa late Wednesday. In Illinois, emergency officials in Winnebago County reported several small tornadoes touched down briefly. No damage was reported.
In Belmond, Iowa, north of Des Moines, Duwayne Abel said a tornado tore through his restaurant's parking lot and demolished part of the building. No one was in the restaurant at the time.
"I was, oh, eight miles west of town and I looked toward town and I could see a funnel cloud, having no idea it was exactly where our restaurant was," Abel said. His wife and an employee were able to get out of the restaurant and sought shelter in a basement, he said.
Authorities in Iowa said at least two businesses and a home were damaged and tens of thousands of people from Iowa to Indiana had lost power.
"We're just happy that we don't have reports of injuries or fatalities," said Stephanie Bond with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management. "We just hope the extent of the damage is minimal."
A derecho last June roared along a 700-mile path from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic, leaving millions powerless for several days. Washington, D.C., was among the hardest-hit cities.
In addition to the severe weather, flooding will be possible as heavy rainfall is expected with the storms that develop and move into these areas, the National Weather Service reports.
Arnold, Mo., remains under a flood warning with the Meramec River reaching flood levels of 24 feet Thursday morning, according to weather reports.
Damaging winds, large hail and a few tornadoes are possible in the Mid-Atlantic region, including Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., the Weather Channel forecasts.
Still, the National Weather Service was forecasting "large hail ... damaging wind gusts and a few tornadoes over parts of the Mid-Atlantic states." Impending lightning, strong winds and rain suspended play at the prestigious U.S. Open golf tournament at the Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia.