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Publication Abstract

Severe Storms in the Midwest. Changnon, Stanley A. and Kenneth E. Kunkel, 2006  Illinois State Water Survey, Champaign, IL,  ISWS IEM 2006-06    Full Text Available
The Midwest experiences a wide variety of severe storms in all seasons, a result of frequent passages of different air masses and unstable atmospheric conditions. Warmer months have thunderstorms, lightning, hail, heavy rains, tornadoes, and high winds, all deadly and often quite damaging to the environment, crops, and property. The cold season has snowstorms, ice storms, high winds, and sleet storms, also deadly and damaging to the environment, property, and transportation.

The goal of this report is to present information on all important storm types. For each form of severe weather, this includes: 1) descriptions of the atmospheric conditions that cause the storms; 2) information about time and space distributions in the Midwest; and 3) impacts data.

Thunderstorms are most frequent in the southern Midwest, occurring on average, on 55 days a year as compared to only 25 days in the extreme northern parts of Minnesota and Michigan. The annual average loss of life due to lightning in the Midwest is 81 persons, with flash floods causing 45 fatalities, and tornadoes averaging 21 deaths per year. Thunderstorms and their products (hail, tornadoes, heavy rains, lightning) cause an average loss in the Midwest of $2.807 billion per year, but thunderstorms also help the Midwest by providing between 40 percent (northern Midwest) to 60 percent (southern sections) of the total annual precipitation.

Severe snowstorms occur most often, 4 to 8 per year, in the Michigan-Minnesota area, with less than one storm per year in the southern Midwest each year. Ice storms are most frequent, averaging 4 to 5 days per year, in the central and northwestern Midwest with less than 2 ice storm days in the southern areas. The annual average deaths caused by winter storms is 43, and winter storms produce an average of $318 million in losses each year.

The frequency of Midwestern severe storms since 1950 exhibits different distributions. The number of damaging thunderstorms, heavy rain events, and snowstorms show temporal increases with a peak in activity since 1990. In contrast, hailstorms, tornadoes, and ice storm frequencies have decreased over time. The Great Lakes and the Midwestís large cities (Chicago, St. Louis, and Cleveland) affect the incidence of severe weather. The Great Lakes lead to more thunderstorms, more snowstorms, and record high hail incidences in the fall. The effect of the regionís large cities on the atmosphere has led to increases in thunderstorms and hail in and immediately downwind of the cities, but has also led to fewer snowstorms and ice storms within the cities.

The Midwest has experienced extremely damaging storms, each causing more than a billion dollars in losses and often many lives. The nationís most deadly tornado in March 1925 occurred in the Midwest with 695 lives lost. The nationís most damaging hailstorm, causing losses of $1.5 billion, occurred in the Midwest in April 2001, and the region had the nationís worst floods in 1993 causing $25 billion in losses.

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