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The U.S. set a new record for powerful wind gusts, with 55 in one day

Residents clear fallen trees Thursday, after a strong storm swept through Hartland, Minn. A powerful storm system swept across the Great Plains and Midwest, bringing hurricane-force wind gusts and spawning reported tornadoes in Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.
Christian Monterrosa
/
AP
Residents clear fallen trees Thursday, after a strong storm swept through Hartland, Minn. A powerful storm system swept across the Great Plains and Midwest, bringing hurricane-force wind gusts and spawning reported tornadoes in Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.

Howling winds tore across the central U.S. on Wednesday, setting a record for the highest number of hurricane-force thunderstorm wind gusts in a day since 2004, the National Weather Service says. At least 55 gusts surpassed the 74-mph threshold for hurricane winds.

"The previous record was from August 10, 2020 with 53," the NWS Storm Prediction Center said.

Strong wind has been blamed for at least one death — a truck driver in eastern Iowa who didn't survive when the wind hit his semi, which then rolled onto its side on a highway. That's according to the Associated Press, citing state police.

Winds peaked at 100 mph in Russell, Kan., one of many places where existing wind records for December were obliterated, the NWS office in Wichita said.

Gusts ripped up roof shingles and made driving perilous. In Great Bend, Kan., it toppled a church steeple.

As NPR reported on Wednesday: "The alarming weather events in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, downed trees, caused road closures, and left thousands of residents in multiple states without power well until the morning.

"In Nebraska alone, officials reported wildfires, tornadoes, high winds, rain and snow that seriously impacted traffic and was reportedly blamed for overturned vehicles."

As the winds whipped over land, they swept massive amounts of dust into the air, reducing visibility and increasing the threat to drivers.

Many cities also saw unseasonably warm temperatures that set new records for the month of December. From Madison to Des Moines to Omaha, the highs blew past old marks. In Moline, Ill., the temperature reached 75 degrees, just 10 days before Christmas.

The strong winds arrived less than a week after multiple tornadoes devastated homes and communities in Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas.

While it can be difficult to connect climate change to any particular storm, experts say that in general, air that's becoming warmer and more moist is providing more fuel for extreme weather, from hurricanes to intense inland storms.

University of Michigan climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck wrote recently that the trend means unusually strong storms could become more likely to strike in the cooler months, adding that they will hit regions farther north than has been the norm.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell echoed that sentiment, stating last week, "This is going to be our new normal," as she discussed what she said was an unprecedented amount of severe late-year storms.


A version of this story first appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.