After One More Day of Tornadoes, Hope for a Respite
People took shelter in their bathrooms in the Midwest, and in the basement of the United States Capitol. Others surveyed splintered homes in an Ohio suburb, or were hemmed in by barricaded Oklahoma roads. Crews collected debris in Missouri that had blown over from Kansas. Phones around Fort Worth squawked as another storm tore from the sky and threatened towns in Texas.
But at last, a record-setting run of severe storms that has spawned hundreds of tornadoes across the nation over the past two weeks appeared on Wednesday to be nearing an end.
Conditions appeared poised to ease on Thursday and into the weekend, as the toll of a dozen consecutive days of destructive storms became clearer: at least seven deaths, scores of injuries, a roster of ravaged communities and tens of millions of people who had faced peril.
“I went into my hallway, because I don’t have a basement, and I felt my house sort of twist,” said Mildred Crouch, who saw home after home near hers destroyed in Celina, Ohio, this week.
A house in Linwood, Kan., was severely damaged by a tornado that hit the area Tuesday night.CreditChristopher Smith for The New York Times
“It’s like a nightmare,” she said.
Powered by a high pressure system in the South and a trough that hung atop the West, the burst of storms pushed the United States to a total of 38 tornado-linked deaths so far this year, the highest count since 2014. Wednesday was the 13th consecutive day when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received at least eight preliminary reports of tornadoes.
And of the roughly 300 tornado or severe thunderstorm watches that forecasters have issued this year, more than 40 percent have come since May 17, when this pernicious round of bad weather began.
The storms mostly attacked small communities — places like Linwood, Kan., population 375 or so — and slightly larger ones, like Celina, where about 10,000 people live and where a man was killed on Monday night. But tornado warnings also sounded in some of the nation’s biggest cities: Washington, Chicago, New York, Oklahoma City, and Kansas City, Mo.
Some of the tornadoes touched down, their funnels hundreds of yards wide in some cases, and raced across the landscape for miles, pulling apart houses and upending entire blocks. Others, including many of the storms that menaced the biggest cities, left barely a trace of their feared fury.
“We’re seeing more tornadoes on days in which we see tornadoes,” said Patrick Marsh, the warning coordination meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center and a co-author of a study on the subject published in the journal Science in 2014. “And since we’re in a pattern right now where we’re seeing tornadoes every day, we’re seeing more of them.”
Although the country might see fewer tornadoes and severe thunderstorms in the days to come, flooding is expected to remain a risk in some states, including Arkansas and Oklahoma. More than 80 river gauges, all of them in the Midwest and the South, were in “major flooding” stage on Wednesday, the government said.