Tornadoes hit 4 Great Lakes states, leaving trail of destruction

Click to play video: 'U.S. Midwest storms: Tornadoes, extreme weather leave trail of destruction'
U.S. Midwest storms: Tornadoes, extreme weather leave trail of destruction
WATCH: Severe weather has left a trail of destruction in the U.S. Midwest on Wednesday, including multiple reports of tornadoes – Feb 28, 2024

Severe storms that appear to have spawned a rare February tornado outbreak sent sleeping Midwesterners scrambling for safety and left a trail of damage and power outages across four Great Lakes states, including the Chicago suburbs, ending a spell of summerlike, sometimes record temperatures.

Nearly two dozen confirmed or suspected tornadoes in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio littered roads with fallen trees and branches, shredded homes and barns, and scattered debris across city and countryside alike. No injuries were reported, despite the storm’s timing at night.

In Michigan’s Grand Blanc Township, near Flint, a confirmed tornado — only the second on record for February in that part of the state — damaged subdivisions, uprooted trees and broke gas lines in Wednesday’s wee hours. Its strength was rated at EF-2, with peak winds of 115 mph (185 kph).

Police and firefighters moved residents in an area of gas leaks to a firehouse, and they were allowed to return when a utility made repairs, authorities said.

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“There are still numerous reports of wires down in the area,” police said. “While there is significant damage to houses in the area, no one was hurt.”

Ted Williams works to put a temporary cover on the roof of his in-laws home following a severe storm near Springfield, Ohio Wednesday morning, February 28, 2024. William said his in-laws stayed in the middle hallway and both are safe. Warning sirens jolted residents of central Ohio awake as a possible tornado hit near Columbus. Significant damage was reported at an airport in Madison County, between Dayton and Columbus. (Marshall Gorby/Dayton Daily News via AP).

More than 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the southwest, a confirmed tornado damaged homes and barns and knocked down trees and power lines in Calhoun County, near the city of Marshall, sheriff’s and weather authorities said.

Warning sirens jolted residents of central Ohio awake as a possible tornado hit near Columbus.

Carole Essex’s family — husband Andy, their infant and a 2-year-old — were asleep at their home in Columbus as the storm approached. When they became aware of the threat, they ran for cover.

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“We woke up and went down to the basement. We grabbed the kids and went down,” Essex, 29, told The Columbus Dispatch. “It sounded like our house collapsed. I looked at Andy and said, ‘Oh, my god, we were hit by a tornado.’”

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Storms destroyed a hangar and damaged planes at a small airport in Madison County, between Dayton and Columbus. Toppled trees closed roads in the area until the debris could be cleared.

Damage is shown in the aftermath of severe weather in Lee Township, Mich. on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. At least two suspected tornadoes caused damage early Wednesday in different areas of Michigan. (Devin Anderson-Torrez/The Flint Journal via AP).

At least five other storms in Ohio were confirmed as tornadoes — in Montgomery and Greene counties in southwestern Ohio; east of Columbus in Franklin and Licking counties; in Hilliard in Franklin County; east of London in Madison County and ending just south of West Jefferson; and near Springfield in Clark County. The latter was rated at EF-2 strength.

At one point, more than 50,000 customers in Ohio and Michigan lacked power Wednesday, according to

The National Weather Service’s Chicago office reported via the social media platform X that at least 11 confirmed tornadoes touched down in northern Illinois, including 10 in the Chicago area.

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In Geneva, in the city’s western suburbs, storms uprooted trees and left some homes with broken windows and shorn-off doors Tuesday evening, Fire Chief Mike Antenore said.

Geneva resident Rebecca Harrington said the storm “cycloned” into her home and collapsed its foyer area.

“The back of my house is sort of hanging off,” Harrington told WGN-TV, which reported no injuries.

Click to play video: 'Tennessee tornadoes: Drone video shows the devastation as crews clean up from deadly storms'
Tennessee tornadoes: Drone video shows the devastation as crews clean up from deadly storms

The storms followed unusual warmth across much of the region in recent days. They were followed Wednesday by a return to winter weather, with snow and temperatures in the 20s in some areas.

Weather service teams throughout the region were trying to confirm tornado reports. One suspected tornado traveled across Chicago’s southern suburbs — from Calumet City, Illinois, into East Chicago and Gary in northwestern Indiana — before heading out over Lake Michigan as a waterspout, weather service meteorologist Kevin Doom said.

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The Grand Blanc Township tornado is only the second February tornado for the section of Michigan covered by Detroit’s National Weather Service office since recordkeeping began in 1950, following one in Wayne County on Feb. 28, 1974, the service said.

The warm weather and severe storms, including hail up to an inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter, on Tuesday and Wednesday are unusual for the area this time of the year, said meteorologist Dave Kook of the weather service’s Detroit office.

“This is not typical of late February by any means,” he said. “Basically, it’s kind of a month ahead of schedule for southeast Michigan.”

A hanger was destroyed and airplanes damaged at the Madison County Airport following severe storm, Wednesday morning, Feb. 28, 2024, in London, Ohio. Warning sirens jolted residents of central Ohio awake as a possible tornado hit near Columbus. Significant damage was reported at an airport in Madison County, between Dayton and Columbus. (Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch via AP).

Robert Trapp, professor and director of the School of Earth, Society & Environment at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, agreed that February tornadoes in the state are “rare, but not unprecedented.”

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According to records dating back to 1955, four EF1 tornadoes touched down in the state on Feb. 28, 2017, while an EF2 tornado was recorded on Feb. 28, 1974, Trapp said. March tornadoes are also uncommon, occurring only in 1956, 1961, 1976 and 1983.

The weather service office that covers southwestern and central Ohio has recorded winter tornadoes almost every year since 2012.

Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield and Corey Williams contributed to this report.

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