53 million people at risk as powerful Midwest storm brings torna - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

53 million people at risk as powerful Midwest storm brings tornadoes, severe winds

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By Alastair Jamieson and Elisha Fieldstadt, NBC News

Fifty three million people across the United States are in harm's way as a powerful storm system will bring tornadoes and widespread damaging wind gusts to the Midwest, the National Weather Service said Sunday afternoon.

"We obviously have a very dangerous situation on our hands and it's just getting started," said Laura Furgione, deputy director of the National Weather Service.

She added, "Get ready now." 

Parts of the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, lower-middle Mississippi Valley and Tennessee Valley are among the areas most at risk for widespread damaging winds and possible tornadoes, experts with the Weather Channel said.

Bill Bunting, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service said one tornado was already reported shortly after noon in Peoria, Ill. The National Weather Service reported that the twister was moving northeast at about 55 miles per hour.

At NBC affiliate WEEK-TV in Peoria, newscasters had to go off the air abruptly, as they realized they themselves were in the path of the twister. According to the NWS, the station's building sustained roof damage. 

In Chicago, the Bears versus Baltimore Ravens game was postponed due to the weather, and the seating area at Soldier Field was evacuated, according to team officials.

Weather Channel severe weather expert Greg Forbes has issued TOR:CON tornado warning values as high as 9 for portions of Illinois and Indiana – meaning there is a 70 percent chance of a tornado within 90 miles of a forecast location.

The highest threat area for tornadoes will be from eastern Illinois into Indiana, southern Michigan, western Kentucky and western Ohio.

In addition to the severe storms, strong gradient winds outside of thunderstorms could gust 70-75 mph for the Great Lakes and interior Northeast into early Monday, the National Weather Service said.

Winds and hail could cause downed trees and scattered power outages, including to areas such as Chicago, Detroit and Buffalo.

Russell Schneider, a director at the National Weather Service, warned that the storm would move rapidly and might quickly progress from one location to the next.

"Fifty three million people over ten states are at severe risk," said Schneider.

"Do not wait for visual confirmation of the threat" he advised residents of the Midwest.

"People can fall into complacency because they don't see severe weather and tornadoes, but we do stress that they should keep a vigilant eye on the weather and have a means to hear a tornado warning because things can change very quickly," said Matt Friedlein, another meteorologist with the Weather Service, told The Associated Press.

The Weather Channel predicts the storm will diminish as it moves east through Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, but high winds could reach as far as New York on Monday morning.

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