Central U.S. braces for severe weather, including tornadoes

CHICAGO (Reuters) – More than 50 million people in the central United States are in the path of strong thunderstorms, damaging wind gusts, large hail and possibly tornadoes over the next few days, forecasters said on Thursday.

The severe weather is threatening a wide swath of the country reaching from the Rocky Mountains through the Midwest and into the Mid-Atlantic and South, the National Weather Service said.

“There are several rounds of potential severe weather,” said Marc Chenard, a meteorologist with the NWS. “Right now, we have slight and enhanced risk of severe weather for the next three days and into next week as well.”

Storms rolled through the Midwest on Thursday afternoon.

One tornado was reported to the NWS to have touched down in LaSalle, Illinois, about 90 miles (145 km) southwest of Chicago. Winds blew down trees and power lines, and hail was reported in communities along the Illinois-Indiana border, the NWS said on its website.

The severe weather could bring damaging winds of more than 60 mph (96 kph), or even golf ball-sized hail and the potential for tornadoes, given that mid to late May is peak tornado season for southern and central Plains states, Chenard said.

Three to 5 inches (8 to 13 cm) of rain are in the forecast during the next week for northern Texas into Minnesota and Wisconsin, Chenard said.

Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney

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