The Midwest received another dose of dangerous weather on Dec. 15 as a fast-moving windstorm left a swath of damaged buildings and power outages from New Mexico to the Great Lakes.
Only a handful of construction projects suspended work due the storm, according to published reports, even as wind gusts in excess of 100 mph were recorded in several locations and thunderstorms and hurricane-force winds grounded hundreds of flights in Denver and Chicago.
Advance warning allowed contractors on the $325-million South Beltway project in Lincoln, Neb., to secure materials along the 11-mile route and avoid a full shutdown as the storm passed. Tower cranes in St. Louis were also secured as a precaution against high winds. One city project affected was the $616-million, Washington University neuroscience research building in the Cortex district. Crews from contractor McCarthy had to shut down cranes for the day.
While less destructive than the deadly tornadoes that cut across a four-state area on Dec. 10, the powerful low-pressure system that was intensified by unusually warm December temperatures brought a different kind of disruption to the region. High winds spawned blinding dust storms and wildfires that forced temporary closure of local roads and major routes such as I-70 in central and western Kansas. Gusts were also blamed for toppling numerous high-riding vehicles, including a semi-trailer truck in eastern Iowa that resulted in the storm’s only known fatality.
As winds gradually abated Dec. 16, local and regional utilities have scrambled to restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers. As of midday on Dec. 16, nearly 350,000 electric customers in Michigan and Wisconsin had yet to be brought back on line, according to poweroutage.us. Another 73,000 customers in Kansas also began the day without power.
Although no major structures or infrastructure appear to have sustained significant damage, images of windstorm effects on residences and small buildings have spread through social media. Among them was a Caldwell, Kan., elementary school’s gymnasium roof that was torn off and landed on adjacent secondary school building.
According to the National Weather Service, the storm set a one-day record for the most hurricane-force thunder wind gusts, with 55 such gales recorded as the storm made its way northeast across the Great Plains.
About 19 tornadoes were reported in three states, with several areas recording their first-ever December twisters.