Millions of Americans on Tornado Watch While Severe Weather Rips Through the Midwest

By: Amanda Kusumowidagdo | Published: Jun 04, 2024

For four days straight, Midwest and the Great Plains residents braced themselves for dangerous tornado weather. 

A tragedy struck, where 26 twisters tore through three states and killed multiple people in Iowa. And this severe weather is not over yet as we head toward the end of May.

Greenfield, IA, Destroyed

Severe weather was forecasted to move southward and eastward, stretching from New York state to Texas. Unfortunately, its first victim already revealed itself: the town of Greenfield, Iowa, was ripped to shreds by tornadoes and half the town was destroyed.

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Buildings and trees destroyed in Greenfield, Iowa, after a tornado hit the city

Source: ChenueHer/X

Sgt. Alex Dinkla of the Iowa State Patrol said at a news conference that a devastating tornado hit Greenfield, a town southwest of Des Moines. It caused several fatalities and injuries in the area. 

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21 of 26 Tornadoes Struck Iowa

The National Weather Service reported at least 21 of the 26 tornadoes spawned by severe weather struck Iowa between 5.44 p.m. and 11 p.m. CT.

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An open road under a very dark sky during extreme weather conditions

Source: Raychel Sanner/Unsplash

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds spoke at a news conference in Greenfield, expressing heartfelt sympathies for the town. “It’s just gut-wrenching. It’s horrific. It’s hard to describe until you can actually see it, the devastation.”

Still Looking for Victims

Officials are being careful releasing the information of the number of deaths and injuries. They’re unwilling to give out any misinformation. However, Gov. Reynolds said search-and-rescue crews still continued to look for victims.

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An aerial shot of a collapsed structure in a field in Greenfield, Iowa

Source: ChenueHer/X

“This is a search-and-rescue mission, and it will continue to be throughout the day,” she said. As of Wednesday, the day after the tragedy, the numbers were still being tallied.

Wind Speeds Reaching 135 MPH

The tornado that struck Greenfield was confirmed earlier by the National Weather Service as an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. It had a maximum wind speed reaching 135 mph.

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An artist’s rendition of a tornado hitting buildings in a small town

Source: NOAA/Unsplash

Based on its strength, it’s easy to see how Greenfield was flattened. And when asked if there were dozens of homes damaged in Greenfield and all throughout the state, the governor said, “That would be way underestimating.”

State Representative Is a Firsthand Witness

State Representative Ray Sorensen, representing Greenfield, was a firsthand witness to the destruction. He was painting at a church when the tornado struck at around 3 p.m. on Tuesday. When he hurried into town, he found numerous homes demolished or damaged, and all historic trees uprooted.

Many houses and trees in Greenfield, Iowa, are torn apart by the tornado

Source: ChenueHer/X

“It’s a completely different town now,” Sorensen said. Although, he added, when he arrived at the scene, people were already clearing the streets to make way for emergency vehicles. Residents were also helping the injured get medical attention at a makeshift triage center.

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Makeshift Ambulances Appeared

“Everybody became little makeshift ambulances,” Sorensen said. “We pulled a guy from the rubble and put him on a little makeshift stretcher that we made, threw him in the back of a truck of a guy that isn’t even from Iowa and we just made our way to the lumber yard, which was the makeshift hospital.”

National Guard soldiers on the ground as the tornado response team performing search and rescue missions

Source: Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James/Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, the real hospital serving Greenfield, Adair County Memorial Hospital, sustained tornado damage. However, it still managed to treat patients and transport some to nearby hospitals for further care.

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329 Severe Storms Reported

Ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, 329 severe storms were reported through the midsection of the U.S., from Texas to Michigan and all the way up in New England.

Gray clouds during a severe storm

Source: Pixabay/Pexels

And even more severe weather was forecasted. The highest threat for tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail would come for Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, including major cities like Dallas, Waco, Abilene, Little Rock and Shreveport. The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for parts of Texas, including Dallas and Waco, on Wednesday night.

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Severe Weather Expected in Many Places

Many places were in danger of experiencing severe weather. Damaging winds were predicted to develop in Memphis, Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Rochester. 

Supercell thunderstorm over an open field

Source: Joshua Eckl/Unsplash

Dangerous weather was expected on Tuesday to strike in the Heartland and parts of the South from South Dakota to Texas and east to Tennessee. The National Weather Service also issued tornado watches for parts of Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas and Oklahoma.

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Iowa in “Particularly Dangerous Situation”

Nearly the entire state of Iowa was declared to be under a “Particularly Dangerous Situation,” according to the National Weather Service. Gov. Reynolds authorized a proclamation of disaster emergency for 15 counties across the state.

A person wearing orange T-shirt standing inside a wrecked house in Greenfield, Iowa

Source: Samaritanspurse/X

The counties included Adair, Adams, Cass, Clay, Hardin, Harrison, Jasper, Kossuth, Marshall, Montgomery, Page, Palo Alto, Pottawattamie, Tama and Warren. She also said the state would ask President Joe Biden to approve federal disaster relief.

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Surveying From Des Moines

ABC’s affiliate station WOI-DT in Des Moines managed to capture a large funnel cloud on the ground in Greenfield. A reporter for the station, Dana Searles, surveyed the damage in Des Moines and reported its devastation.

Village houses with damaged roofs and uprooted trees after a tornado passed through

Source: Kelly/Pexels

“This small community has a big chunk destroyed, but about half of it is still intact. From what I’ve seen, I’d estimate that maybe 75% of it is near to the ground right now,” she reported.

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Devastation Also Struck in Other States

Greenfield was not the only town devastated by severe weather. Yuma, Colorado, was hit by hail that ranged from golf ball to softball-sized hunks of ice. Cars and buildings were damaged, causing several vehicles to get stuck. 

A close-up photo of hail stones

Source: Wolfgang Hasselmann/Unsplash

Meanwhile, in Nebraska, hail with the size of two inches in diameter fell in Dundy County, where winds over 90 mph were also reported. Major flash flooding also occurred in Omaha, Nebraska, when more than six inches of rain was recorded. Residents everywhere should have their emergency plans in place to be prepared for the next major weather event.

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