WASHINGTON, Ill. — Dozens of tornadoes and intense thunderstorms swept across the Midwest on Sunday, leaving at least five people dead and unleashing powerful winds that flattened entire neighborhoods, flipped over cars and uprooted trees.
Illinois took the brunt of the fury as the string of unusually powerful late-season tornadoes tore across the state, injuring dozens and even prompting officials at Chicago’s Soldier Field to evacuate the stands and delay the Bears game.
An elderly man and his sister were killed when a tornado hit their home in the rural southern Illinois community of New Minden, said coroner Mark Styninger. A third person died in Washington, while two others perished in Massac County in the far southern part of the state, said Patti Thompson of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. She did not provide details.
With communications difficult and many roads impassable, it remained unclear how many people were killed or hurt. The Illinois National Guard said it had dispatched 10 firefighters and three vehicles to Washington to assist with immediate search and recovery operations.
Just how many tornadoes hit also was unclear. According to the National Weather Services’ website, a total of 65 tornadoes had struck, the bulk of them in Illinois. But meteorologist Matt Friedlein said the total might fall because emergency workers, tornado spotters and others often report the same tornado.
Still, when the weather service was issuing its warning that severe weather was bearing down on the Midwest, officials said the last such warning issued so late in the season in November came in 2005, and the result was an outbreak of 49 tornadoes.
The storm followed warnings by the weather service that the storm was simply moving too fast for people to wait until they saw it to get ready.
“This is a very dangerous situation,” said Russell Schneider, director of the weather service’s Storm Prediction Center. Some 53 million people in 10 states were “at significant risk for thunderstorms and tornadoes,” he said.
The storm also slammed through parts of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky as it made its way east into the mid-Atlantic states on Sunday night.
The National Weather Service said Sunday night serious storms have moved out of Ohio and a statewide tornado watch has been cancelled.
More than 95,000 customers are without power after heavy winds from the unusually large and strong late-season storm system rolled through the state Sunday.
The storm caused damage to buildings and homes and downed many trees and power lines.
Friedlein said that such strong storms are rare this late in the year because there usually isn’t enough heat from the sun to sustain the thunderstorms. But he said temperatures Sunday were expected to reach into the 60s and 70s, which he said is warm enough to help produce severe weather when it is coupled with winds, which are typically stronger this time of year than in the summer.