The National Weather Service’s regional office issued a flood watch and hazardous weather outlook on Wednesday for Crawford County, predicting strong thunderstorms in the area Wednesday evening and into today. Additionally, the entire state of Pennsylvania remains under a flood watch for high waters, while 19 states and 74.7 million people are considered to be under heightened risk of dangerous weather.
“Because the ground is so oversaturated right now, additional rain could cause flash flooding,” Allen Clark, director of Emergency Management for the Crawford County Office of Emergency Services, said Wednesday afternoon.
Clark alerted the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Meadville city officials, fire departments and other municipal coordinators and “critical needs facilities.”
Low pressure was expected to move along a stationary front in the area and produce thunderstorms with heavy rain overnight. Affected areas were expected to see up to three inches of rainfall, according to NWS reports.
The main risk associated with the severe thunderstorms is damaging winds and hail, but there is also a small potential for a tornado, the NWS reports.
“Winds will be light,” Clark said. “However, with the ground being so saturated, what wind we have could cause trees to fall.”
Flooding is most likely to develop in low-level areas before progressing to larger streams and rivers. Area residents are advised to monitor forecasts and be alert for possible flood warnings.
“(Crawford County is) very much prone to flash flooding,” Clark said. “We advise all residents to be careful when they’re driving in the early morning hours because roadways could be flooded.”
Emergency officials advise residents not to cross flooded roadways or drive at high speeds in rainy conditions.
“The weather could be hazardous in the morning,” Clark said, “and people should use due caution.”
NWS officials say the greatest risk of flooding is in the northern portion of Pennsylvania, while the worst thunderstorms are expected in southern areas.
NWS meteorologists are highlighting the threat for a derecho event, which is a straight-line wind storm spanning at least 240 miles. The severe weather outbreak is expected to spread southeast from the Great Lakes and into the Mid-Atlantic states today with the storm system potentially spanning from the Midwest to Pennsylvania and surrounding states.
The storms are also likely to cause power outages that will be followed by oppressive heat, said Russell Schneider, director of the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
In the small town of Belmond, Iowa, about 90 miles north of Des Moines, Duwayne Abel, owner of Cattleman’s Steaks & Provisions restaurant, said a tornado swooped through his business’ parking lot and demolished part of the building on Wednesday. No one was in the restaurant at the time.
Other small tornadoes were also reported in other parts of Iowa and in Illinois. More than 1,200 customers in northern Iowa have lost power. The center was using its highest alert level for parts of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.