Snow, Deadly Tornadoes Slam Upper Midwest, Ohio Valley

An intense winter storm has brought blizzard conditions to the Great Plains and the Upper Midwest, while spawning a spring-like tornado outbreak across several states, killing at least nine people so far.

A visible satellite image on Wednesday afternoon showing the storm center and heavy snow in Minnesota, and a line of severe thunderstorms from Kentucky to Mississippi. Click on the image for a larger image. Credit: SSEC/NOAA.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, tornado and severe thunderstorm watches stretched from the shores of Lake Erie southwestward to Mississippi and Alabama, and several tornado warnings were in effect. So far, Illinois and Missouri have been hardest hit. Six people were reportedly killed in Harrisburg, Ill., when a violent EF-4 tornado tore through town early Wednesday morning. That twister reportedly injured 100, and damaged or destroyed up to 300 homes and businesses. “It's like nothing I've ever seen, and something I don't care to see again,” Harrisburg mayor Eric Gregg told CNN. According to the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog, only 1.3 percent of February tornadoes on record since 1950 have reached EF-4 strength or or higher. 

As reported, one severe thunderstorm traveled about 800 miles, dropping tornadoes along the way, from Oklahoma to West Virginia.

Severe thunderstorms also killed three people in Missouri, and the resort community of Branson was heavily damaged. 

In case you're wondering whether this tornado outbreak is normal for late February, the short answer is: sort of. The unusual aspect of this storm is not that it's producing tornadoes in February, but rather that it's bringing tornadoes to areas that don't typically see them during the winter. For example, a tornado that touched down in Nebraska yesterday became the first February tornado on record in that state. A photo of that tornado showed patches of snow on the ground, a very weird juxtaposition.

Winter tornadoes are more typical in the Southeast U.S.

On the cold side of the storm, more than a foot of snow fell from Nebraska to Wisconsin, and heavy snow is anticipated in parts of New England on Wednesday night. Although it will not be a blockbuster event there, the storm will be the first significant snow event of the year in Boston, which is remarkably late by Boston's standards.

Related Climate Central Content:

How Do We Know: Tracking Tornadoes (Video)