CHICAGO, May 16 (Reuters) - More than 50 million people in the central United States are in the path of strong thunderstorms, damaging wind gusts, large hail and maybe tornadoes over the next few days, forecasters said on Thursday.
The severe weather is threatening a wide swath of the country reaching from the Rocky Mountains through the Midwest and into the Mid-Atlantic and South, the National Weather Service said.
“There are several rounds of potential severe weather,” said Marc Chenard, a meteorologist with the service. “Right now, we have slight and enhanced risk of severe weather for the next three days and into next week as well.”
The latest episode of dangerous spring weather came on Thursday when the weather service issued tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings for the Joliet, Illinois area, about 45 miles (72 km) southwest of Chicago.
“Hail damage to vehicles is expected. Expect considerable tree damage. Wind damage is also likely to mobile homes, roofs, and outbuildings,” the service said in an advisory, warning of 70 mile-per-hour (113 km-per-hour) wind gusts and hail an inch (2.5 cm) across.
More than 50 million people in major cities such as Chicago, Houston and Oklahoma City could see wet, windy weather, the service’s Weather Prediction Center said.
The severe weather could bring damaging winds of more than 60 mph, or even golf ball-sized hail and the potential for tornadoes, given that mid to late May is peak tornado season for southern and central Plains states, Chenard said.
Three to 5 inches (8 to 13 cm) of rain is in the forecast during the next week for northern Texas into Minnesota and Wisconsin, Chenard said. (Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)