A severe thunderstorm watch was issued for parts of the Midwest through 10 p.m. CT Thursday, according to the Storm Prediction Center. The watch was labeled a “particularly dangerous situation” or “PDS” watch – a ranking that accounts for less than 3% of watches and is reserved for high-end events.
“A prolific wind damage event is expected to spread from northeast Nebraska to southeast South Dakota and northwest Iowa/southwest Minnesota,” the SPC said, adding that widespread damaging winds and gusts of up to 105 miles per hour are possible, along with hail up to 2 inches wide and a few tornadoes.
More than 20 million people were threatened by severe weather throughout the region on Thursday evening and into the night.
Winds of at least 107 miles per hour — equivalent to those of a Category 2 hurricane — were recorded in parts of Hutchinson County in southern South Dakota as of Thursday evening, according to the National Weather Service. Across Nebraska and South Dakota, more than two dozen locations were reporting wind speeds of at least 80 miles per hour, according to the weather service.
A tornado watch was issued through Thursday evening for central and northeastern South Dakota, including Pierre and Aberdeen, warning of high winds and near baseball-sized hail, SPC said.
Another tornado watch was on display through midnight local time for western and central Minnesota and southeastern North Dakota, according to the SPC. Strong gusts of wind and “very large hail” are also likely, the center said.
Some of the larger cities to be aware of severe weather potential are Minneapolis/St. Paul in Minnesota, Omaha in Nebraska, Sioux City in Iowa and, to a lesser extent, Des Moines, Iowa. Although all the dangers are on the table, including tornadoes, the biggest risk appears to be straight winds and large hail.
The storms are fueled by hot temperatures
The storms are being fueled by temperatures in the region, which are more commonly seen in mid-July.
All Thursday, temperature records were broken from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, with states like Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin all recording temperatures in the 90s in some areas.
The combination of heat and humidity helped pave the way for the storms.
“Warm and humid air from the Gulf of Mexico has flowed north through the plains and into the upper Midwest,” said CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward.
“The warm and succulent air mass provides ample energy to foment severe storms with gusts in excess of hurricane force, baseball-sized hail and even tornadoes,” added Ward.
Peak of the tornado season
Independent of statistics and monthly averages, the SPC is able to identify areas most at risk from severe weather.
Just like Thursday’s forecast, conditions are favorable for severe weather development – but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll experience damaging winds, large hail or tornadoes.
CNN’s Taylor Ward contributed to this report.