Updated May 8, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Severe storms unleash tornadoes on Midwest, Ohio Valley after slamming Plains

Photo: NOAA

Photo: NOAA

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared an emergency for affected counties after tornadoes struck the state, with authorities reporting one that injured several people in a mobile home park as it tore through.

The big picture: These storms that also produced tornadoes in Ohio and Indiana and affected Milwaukee and Chicago were part of a deadly severe weather outbreak that threatened much of the Plains and Central U.S. Monday and unleashed tornadoes across several states.

  • Portions of Ohio were affected by tornado warnings through 2am Wednesday ET, but those in effect for parts of Michigan and Indiana expired by late Tuesday, leaving authorities in those affected areas to assess the damage.

By the numbers: There were reports of 10 tornadoes in Michigan, three in Ohio and two in Indiana as of Tuesday night.

  • Over 33,000 people were without power in Michigan and more than 14,500 had no electricity in Ohio early Wednesday, per poweroutage.us.

State of play: Whitmer declared a state of emergency for Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, Branch, and Cass counties in response to the storms.

  • Kalamazoo County authorities told media about 50 people were trapped inside a FedEx facility in Portage after a tornado struck the west Michigan city, but a company spokesperson said via email late Tuesday that all had since been accounted for as damage assessments continued.
  • Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said at a briefing early Tuesday there had been "significant damage" in the area from the tornado, including at the Portage mobile home park, which destroyed 17 homes and damaged 173 others.
  • There were no immediate reports of fatalities and none of the 16 to 20 people wounded had life-threatening injuries, according to Fuller.

Zoom in: About an hour after the large tornado swept Portage, the NWS said a second tornado was reported near the city.

  • Meanwhile, a "large and extremely dangerous" tornado was confirmed near Climax and Battle Creek in Michigan, moving northeast at 45 mph, per the NWS.
  • Severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings were issued into Tuesday night for multiple states extending from Alabama to Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois. 

Where it stands: There's an enhanced risk of severe thunderstorms from northeastern Texas into the Mid-South, mid-Mississippi Valley and lower Ohio, per the NWS' Storm Prediction Center.

  • Heavy rain was also possible, with the threat of flash flooding forecast for much of the Midwest, Tennessee and Lower Mississippi valleys, along with the Southern Plains over the next few days.

Zoom out: The NWS' Tulsa office said Tuesday a survey team assessing a tornado that killed at least one person in Barnsdall a day earlier "found low end EF4 damage."

  • An EF-4 level of the the five-tier Enhanced Fujita scale means winds of 166-200 mph and devastating damage.

Between the lines: Climate change is affecting the atmospheric conditions that give rise to severe thunderstorms, in particular by increasing atmospheric instability, and the scientific community is actively researching its impact on tornadoes.

Go deeper: The difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Axios' Andrew Freedman contributed reporting.

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