Fierce winds swept across parts of the Midwest on Wednesday, damaging buildings, closing highways and overturning tractor-trailers, officials said.

The winds were record-setting. Wednesday had the most wind gusts of 75 mph or greater since at least 2004, the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center said. There were 55 such gusts “and counting,” it said.

There were also preliminary reports of tornadoes across parts of Nebraska and Iowa, and one was reported in Minnesota, according to the weather service. Storm survey teams will confirm whether they were tornadoes.

“Very unusual for December,” said Bryon Miller, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Omaha/Valley office. “Going back at least 50 years there hasn’t been an event in eastern Nebraska or western Iowa like this in the month of December.”

Forecasters had warned of an “extremely powerful storm system” that would bring the threat of severe thunderstorms and damaging winds across the Great Plains and Upper Midwest on Wednesday night.

More than 140,000 customers were without power in Iowa, according to tracking site Smaller outages, but still in the tens of thousands, were in Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri.

Roads in western Kansas, including a portion of Interstate 70, were closed due to blowing dust and crashes, the state Department of Transportation said.

Tractor-trailers in the state blew over and there were brownout conditions and close to zero visibility near Wakeeney, Kansas, and officials urged people to stay off the highways. Kansas State University Salinas said its campus suffered weather damage and was closed.

“If you don’t have to travel, don’t. Stay home,” the Kansas DOT urged in a tweet.

Wildfires in Kansas caused and fueled by high winds led to evacuation orders for cities in Osborne, Russell and Rooks counties, NBC affiliate KSN of Wichita reported.

Residents were later allowed to return, Russell County Administrator John Fletcher told the station. A wildfire also prompted Sheridan County officials to evacuate a few homes near Quinter, according to The Associated Press.

The National Weather Service in Topeka said it received reports of the smell of smoke, likely from the central Kansas fires.

Wednesday’s weather also caused air traffic controllers at Kansas City International Airport to evacuate the “tower cab” for a little less than an hour, the airport said.

The high winds also knocked down power lines and toppled a truck in Colorado, and prompted the closure of several roads, state and local officials said.

Parts of Jefferson County, Colorado, saw wind gusts of up to 95 mph Wednesday, the National Weather Service in Boulder said.

More than 500 flights at Denver International Airport were delayed and almost 150 were canceled, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware.

In Colorado Springs, firefighters responded to hundreds of calls even as the roof of its headquarters was blown off, the fire department said.

There were likely a few fast-moving, relatively weak tornadoes in south-central Nebraska, and the chance of damaging winds lingered after the thunderstorm threat largely passed, Ryan Pfannkuch, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Hastings, said.

Video released by the Nebraska State Patrol showed a big rig topple in front of a trooper on Interstate 80 near Lincoln on Wednesday afternoon. The driver was not injured.

Late Wednesday, high wind warnings stretched from parts of South Dakota and Missouri to northern Michigan. A line of thunderstorm warnings crossed Wisconsin and Illinois from north to south. The National Weather Service in Chicago warned that there could be wind gusts of 65 mph if the line of storms holds together.

The storm was shifting north after hitting the Plains, the weather service said. It is expected to bring high winds and snow to the upper Great Lakes region, the agency said.

The high winds that battered the central U.S. come days after deadly storms and tornadoes that struck Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Illinois and Missouri. More than 70 people died in Kentucky alone.

The National Weather Service said Wednesday that one of those tornadoes, which devastated the Kentucky city of Mayfield and others, was an EF4 with 190 mph winds.

President Joe Biden visited Kentucky on Wednesday and pledged federal help.


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