(Photo: File photo by Alex Wong, Getty Images)
(USAToday.com) - A ferocious round of severe weather is starting to wallop the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic.
The National Weather Service said two tornadoes touched down in northern Iowa late Wednesday afternoon. In Illinois, emergency officials in Winnebago County reported several small tornadoes touched down briefly. No damage was reported.
The weather service said tornadoes, howling winds and large hail are all possible over a wide area through Thursday. In all, more than 74 million people are at risk of severe weather during the outbreak, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
In Belmond, Iowa, north of Des Moines, Duwayne Abel said a tornado tore through his restaurant's parking lot and demolished part of the building. No one was in the restaurant at the time.
"I was, oh, eight miles west of town and I looked toward town and I could see a funnel cloud, having no idea it was exactly where our restaurant was," Abel said. His wife and an employee were able to get out of the restaurant and sought shelter in a basement, he said.
Authorities in Iowa said at least two businesses and a home were damaged and tens of thousands of people from Iowa to Indiana had lost power.
"We're just happy that we don't have reports of injuries or fatalities," said Stephanie Bond with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management. "We just hope the extent of the damage is minimal."
Cities at greatest risk for bad weather Wednesday include Milwaukee, Chicago, Louisville, Indianapolis, Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski says.
A tornado watch remained in effect in parts of Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The storms could include a derecho, a fierce blast of wind that can bring gusts to 80 mph or more and damage to a large area over hundreds of miles, Sosnowski says.
Even if a derecho does not develop, AccuWeather predicts that powerful thunderstorms will still be quite numerous across much of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
Early Wednesday afternoon, the Storm Prediction Center issued a rare "High Risk" warning for portions of northern Illinois and northern Indiana, which includes the city of Chicago. This is only the third time that Chicago has been in a "High" risk area since 2000.
The prediction center warns that "widespread damaging winds are likely across the High Risk area."
An infamous derecho last June roared along a 700-mile path from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic, leaving millions powerless for several days. Washington, D.C., was among the hardest-hit cities.
In addition to the severe weather, flooding will be possible as heavy rainfall is expected with the storms that develop and move into these areas, the National Weather Service reports.
Overnight Wednesday and into Thursday, damaging winds, large hail and a few tornadoes are possible in the Mid-Atlantic region, including Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., the Weather Channel forecasts.
The weather service is forecasting a 90% chance of heavy rain and thunderstorms in the Philadelphia area on Thursday, which is bad news for the already waterlogged golf course at the U.S. Open in Ardmore, Pa., just outside of the city. A flood watch is in effect for the area.
Contributing: William M. Welch, USA Today; Associated Press