Storms bring hail, strong winds, small tornadoes to Great Plains

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, April 27, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY — Thunderstorms bearing hail as big as grapefruit and winds approaching hurricane strength lashed portions of the Great Plains on Tuesday, but arrived without the destructive tornadoes that many had worried about for days.

A rope tornado brushed fields south of Wichita, Kansas, and another small twister touched down in southwestern Indiana. As the sun went down on the western prairie, the Storm Prediction Center had received reports of bad weather from Texas to Nebraska to West Virginia, but none of them deadly.

“It’s never straightforward when you’re sitting here talking about (predicting) large tornadoes,” meteorologist Matt Mosier said as the forecast was taking shape.

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But it’s not like the weather wasn’t bad or scary. It was both.

Hail 4 inches in diameter fell in northern Kansas, northwest of Marysville, and winds hit 70 mph in Missouri and Texas while storms went through. Residents of Topeka, Kansas, eyed the sky nervously during rush hour after forecasters warned that a supercell thunderstorm could produce a tornado at any moment.

As night fell, small twisters accompanied a line of thunderstorms as it rolled into Oklahoma City. Telltale power flashes from failing transformers pierced the twilight as another neighborhood lost power.

Later, in North Texas’ Grayson County, there were widespread reports of tree and roof damage. Several buildings in the small city of Whitesboro had “minor to extensive” damage but there were no reports of injuries, Whitesboro Police Lt. Jimmy Leverett said. Oncor, the main electricity provider for the region, counted about 36,000 customers without power in North Texas.

In Oklahoma, authorities were responding to reports of trees blown onto houses in the Tulsa area. No injuries were immediately reported.

A tornado watch that had covered a large stretch of both states was allowed to expire after midnight.

In the days ahead of the storm, forecasters said a severe weather outbreak was possible Tuesday, perhaps including tornadoes that could stay on the ground for miles.

“This is a particularly dangerous situation,” the Storm Prediction Center alerted in red type in an afternoon advisory. It uses such language on only about 7 percent of its tornado watches. Forecasters had predicted a 90 percent chance of tornadoes and said 80 percent could have winds above 111 mph in much of Oklahoma and northern Texas.