Extreme low-pressure storm carves path of devastation across central US

Less than a week after a series of tornadoes wreaked havoc across Kentucky, Illinois and three other states, a powerful derecho wind storm swept through the Great Plains and Midwest on Wednesday, bringing record-breaking winds and reports of severe weather across several states.

The low pressure wind system, driven by unseasonably high temperatures, placed nearly 70 million people across the United States under severe weather watches or warnings. By Thursday, the National Weather Service (NWS) said the storm was moving north of the Great Lakes and into Canada, bringing high winds, heavy snow and other hazardous conditions.

At least five people have been reported dead and approximately half a million homes and businesses were without power as of Thursday morning. Nearly 220,000 customers in Michigan still lacked electricity as of Thursday night, and about 60,000 in Wisconsin, down from a peak earlier in the day of 125,000, according to PowerOutage.us.

The NWS recorded at least 21 reports of tornadoes in Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa on Wednesday, and strong gusts of wind up to 100 miles per hour from New Mexico to Wisconsin. Iowa alone recorded five tornadoes, the most ever recorded in December—the last 70 years had only seen five twisters recorded in the typically cold winter month. The NWS said weather stations recorded at least 55 wind gusts over 75 mph across the country, the highest daily number since 2004.

The extreme weather came in several forms, including dust storms that reduced visibility to zero in Kansas and Colorado. Videos and photos posted on social media from Kansas recalled the dark days of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, depicting giant dust clouds, which loomed on the horizon and then blotted out the sun, turning daytime into night.

Kansas state officials were forced to close Interstate 70 as well as state highways in nine counties in northwest Kansas. Denver International Airport reported over 100 flight cancellations and 288 delays due to the high winds.

USA Today reported that in Kansas City, Missouri, part of the roof at its downtown airport collapsed and air traffic controllers had to evacuate from the facility’s tower. In Minnesota and Iowa, debris obstructed roads, power lines fell, and entire houses were destroyed.

Residents in part of Oklahoma’s panhandle were evacuated Wednesday afternoon and all lanes of Interstate 287 closed down due to blazing wildfires whipped up by extreme winds. At least four active wildfires in Texas’ panhandle have also been accelerated by the strong winds. Fires were also spotted in Kansas. Smoke from these fires could be smelled as far away as Chicago Thursday morning.

The back-to-back series of extreme weather events—including a storm on Monday and Tuesday that drenched California with heavy rain and brought up to six feet of snow at higher elevations—are unusual for the time of year and are unquestionably linked to human-induced climate change.

The tornado season in the Plains region normally peaks from late April to early June. The New York Times reported that since 1950, Nebraska has recorded only two tornadoes in December, which both occurred in 1975. Wisconsin, which saw a tornado watch on Wednesday, has only recorded six December tornadoes since 1844.

Scientists and meteorologists from the NWS believe the week’s storms were prompted by high wind shear and warmer weather than usual. The central US and Midwest has experienced an uncharacteristically warm December, and temperatures in Arkansas and Kansas on Friday were in the 70s and 80s.

Iowa witnessed record high temperatures in the lower 70s on Wednesday, double the average high for the month of December. The NWS said many states have seen temperatures more than 30 degrees warmer than December averages.

As with the multitude of other weather-related calamities, American workers have been forced to bear the brunt of this week’s storms, which exposed the contempt the American ruling class holds for their lives.

President Joe Biden visited Kentucky on Wednesday, promising the federal government would cover 100 percent of the state’s cost for emergency recovery work for the first 30 days. In his remarks, Biden described how the “tornadoes devoured everything in their path” and caused the worst destruction he had ever seen.

Biden noted that he’s been “involved in responding to a lot of disasters.”

“And you can see it in people’s faces,” he continued, “what they’re really looking for—and look around, I say to the press ... is just to be able to put their head down on a pillow, be able to close their eyes, take a deep breath, go to sleep and make sure the kids are OK. That’s what people are looking for right now…”

But a major share of the desperation Biden describes has been imposed on huge swathes of the American population due to his administration’s homicidal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly throughout schools, kept open by the Biden administration, millions of parents are genuinely concerned for the well-being of their children.

The devastation wrought by these storms is not inevitable either. The proper material and technologies exist to construct buildings that can withstand powerful storms. However, the ruling class continues to funnel society’s wealth into upholding the prerogatives of American imperialism; the funds Biden promised in Kentucky amounts to a mere fraction of the over $770 billion budget for the US military that the president will sign after its passage this week in Congress.

These storms once again demonstrate the bankruptcy of the American ruling class and their indifference to life. The severity of climate change and the pandemic will only continue to worsen under the capitalist system, and necessitates the conscious political intervention of the working class.