published Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Homes leveled as severe storms rip through Midwest

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Storms packing rain, snow and dangerous winds raked the Midwest and spawned a possible tornado outside of St. Louis that prompted an emergency declaration from Missouri's governor.

To the north icy weather left thousands without power and prompted Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to call out the state Nation Guard to aid residents as the state braced for another storm system that threatened to dump several inches of wet snow Thursday.

The most violent weather was centered near the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood late Wednesday night. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported early Thursday that homes and vehicles were damaged in the area. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.

Butch Dye, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service in St. Louis, Mo., said crews would assess the damage Thursday.

"We won't be able to confirm whether it was a tornado until teams get out there tomorrow," Dye said.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in response to the damage in the St. Louis region and power outages in southern Missouri. Nixon plans to survey storm damage Thursday.

In Minnesota, Gov. Dayton said the weather was taxing the resources of local and county governments, and he issued an executive order activating the guard.

The town of Worthington was using backup diesel generators to power sections of the city at a time, public utilities manager Scott Hain told Minnesota Public Radio. Roughly a quarter to a third of the city of about 13,000 people was without power at any given time, he said.

"With the generation that we have available, we are conducting rolling blackouts through the community," Hain said. "From what we're hearing from the folks that own the transmission that's down right now, is we expect that we'll be operating under this same scenario at least through the rest of today and possibly into tomorrow as well."

The National Weather Service said southwestern Minnesota could get 8 or 9 inches of snow by Thursday morning, while 8 to 14 inches was forecast for a large swath of southern Minnesota, including the Twin Cities, St. Cloud, Willmar and Mankato starting Wednesday night and into Thursday.

In Missouri and Arkansas, dangerous winds were the threat Wednesday. A tornado was reported to have touched down near Botkinburg in north-central Arkansas, said John Robinson, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock. Four people were injured.

Residents in eastern South Dakota were hunkering down Wednesday for the second wave of a spring storm that already downed power lines and closed roads, schools and businesses. Tens of thousands of residents in that part of the state remained without power as they awaited more bad weather.

Freezing drizzle was expected to give way Wednesday night to 6 to 12 inches of snow accompanied by winds of 15 to 25 miles per hour, said Philip Schumacher, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

The weather service said the challenging weather could extend into flood-prone southeastern North Dakota, where about 3 to 5 inches of snow is expected through late Thursday.

Although it could contain at least one-quarter inch of liquid, weather service officials said it should not change the current flood forecast.

"Any additional precipitation at this stage in the game is not necessarily a good thing," said Peter Rogers, a weather service meteorologist in Grand Forks. "But we're not expecting that to have an immediate impact on the rivers either."

In Wisconsin, rain, ice and snow caused minor flooding Wednesday in areas including the Rock River at Afton and Newville, Crawfish River at Milford, Sheboygan River at Sheboygan, and Manitowoc River at Manitowoc.

Wisconsin Emergency Management spokesman Tod Pritchard said another wave of freezing rain could sweep across central Wisconsin from La Crosse to Green Bay from late Wednesday into Thursday. That rain could cause more flooding in the region.

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