Rains ease, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana still face flood of ‘historic magnitude’

A mattress and dresser drawer are among the debris scattered on a lawn near a damaged house after several tornadoes reportedly touched down, in Linwood, Kansas, U.S., May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Nate Chute

By Alex Dobuzinskis and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Thousands of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana residents braced for more flooding on Thursday as swollen rivers continued to rise, although the threat of rain was expected to ease by the afternoon, officials said.

Many in the U.S. Southern states have already evacuated homes, as of further flooding drove fears that decades-old levees girding the Arkansas River may not hold.

There were no reports of major levee breaks early on Thursday, said Dylan Cooper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“The rivers and tributaries are still rising from all that water flowing downstream from up north,” said Cooper.

“We call it the bathtub effect. There’s only so much water that the levees and reservoirs can hold before that water just spills over,” he said.

The only good news is that it looks like the area is going to have a dry few days into the weekend, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“They can use any dry weather they can get,” said Oravec.

More than a week of violent weather, including downpours and deadly tornadoes, has lashed the central United States, bringing record-breaking floods in parts of the states, turning highways into lakes and submerging all but the roofs of some homes.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson told a news conference on Wednesday, that the state is experiencing a “flood of historic magnitude.”

Flooding has already closed 12 state highways, he said, and 400 households have agreed to voluntary evacuations.

Hutchinson sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday asking for a federal emergency declaration for Arkansas.

The levee system along the Arkansas River “has not seen this type of record flooding” before, Hutchinson said in his six-page letter.

Hutchinson said Trump had promised assistance in an earlier conversation, several media outlets reported.

Rivers were expected to crest by early June to the highest levels on record all the way down to Little Rock, Arkansas, forecasters said.

“We’ve had river highs of 44.9 feet in places,” said Cooper of the Arkansas River. “We’re blowing through records.”

In Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second largest city, Mayor G.T. Bynum warned that the city’s levees were being tested “in a way that they have never been before.”

He said the 20-mile (32 km) levee system, which protects some 10,000 people, was working as designed so far and being patrolled around the clock by the Oklahoma National Guard.

At least six people have died in the latest round of flooding and storms in Oklahoma, according to the state’s Department of Health.

More than 300 tornadoes have touched down in the Midwest in the past two weeks. Tornadoes pulverized buildings in western Ohio on Monday, killing one person and injuring scores.

In Louisiana, the Mississippi River was also at record flood levels due to record-breaking rainfalls this spring, forecasters said.

Trump authorized emergency aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the state late on Wednesday.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Mississippi rose above flood stage in early January and has remained there since, forecasters said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Second wave of twisters in U.S. South turns deadly as storm pushes east

4-19-2019 Twitter photograph of Macron, MS twitter - Bryce Jones

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – A second wave of tornadoes and thunderstorms to hit the U.S. South and Midwest this week turned deadly on Thursday with three people reported killed, as the storms pushed eastward on Friday, officials and media accounts said.

One person was killed after a tree fell on his vehicle in Neshoba County, Mississippi, Thursday afternoon, the local paper, the Neshoba Democrat, reported.

A second death was reported in St. Clair County, Mississippi, after a tree fell on a home, late Thursday, according to AccuWeather.

A third death was reported late Thursday in the Wattsville community, north of Pell City, Alabama, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported, after a tree fell on a home.

The deaths come in the wake of at least five people, including three children, who were killed last weekend in a storm system that drove more than three dozen tornadoes across the U.S. South.

Communities in central Texas and western Louisiana, already hit by flash floods and twisters in the first round last weekend, were hit once more by high winds, twisters, egg-sized hail and intense rain Thursday and Friday, according to AccuWeather and the NWS.

In the latest storm system, multiple possible tornadoes hit southwest and central Mississippi Thursday night and early Friday, the NWS said, but the damage will have to be surveyed before confirmation of twisters.

“We’re still under some severe storm warnings, tornado watches and flood warnings into this morning and the afternoon across a broad swipe of the U.S.,” said NWS meteorologist Bob Oravec early Friday.

“The severe thunderstorms will impact the deep South and southeastern U.S., through Georgia and the Florida panhandle, before it heads up the Atlantic Coast,” he said.

Flash flooding could remain a threat in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts on Saturday, the weather service said.

The storm system will lose much of its punch late in the weekend, but the East Coast should expect a soggy Easter, Oravec said.

Power outages were reported early Friday in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, affecting a total of about 91,800 homes and businesses, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.Us.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Mark Potter)

Second wave of tornadoes, thunderstorms to pummel the U.S. South and Midwest

National Weather forecast for 4-17-19

(Reuters) – Tornadoes and thunderstorms will hit the U.S. South and Midwest for a second time this week, starting Wednesday afternoon and pushing eastward, forecasters said.

At least five people, including three children, were killed over the weekend in a storm system that drove more than three dozen tornadoes across the U.S. South.

Communities in central Texas and western Louisiana, already hit by flash floods and twisters in the first round, will be hit once more by high winds, twisters and intense rain, according to AccuWeather and the NWS.

“This is a dangerous, vigorous storm,” Jim Hayes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland, said early Wednesday.

The storm is expected to stretch from Iowa and Missouri in the north through Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to the south, said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist John Feerick.

“Dallas and Oklahoma City, from there on eastward is probably at greatest threat from damaging winds, flooding downpours and tornadoes,” said Feerick.

Northern Oklahoma could be pelted with hail 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter, or larger, on Wednesday, the NWS tweeted.

NWS forecaster Hayes said the storm gets its initial fuel from warm, moist air over the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’ll kick-up this afternoon over southern Kansas and about all of Oklahoma, with rain, wind gusts of 65 mph, hail and tornadoes.”

“The worst will hit before midnight,” he added. “By early Thursday it’ll push into Kentucky and Alabama.”

As the storm tracks eastward, it will extend from Indiana south to Florida by late Thursday, hitting the Atlanta area that night and the Atlantic coast the next day.

Picking up moisture from the ocean, the system is likely to produce intense thunderstorms up the eastern seaboard as far north as New York state.

New York City, Philadelphia and Washington may face travel delays from the rain and possibly property damage from high winds, AccuWeather warned.

Flash flooding could remain a threat in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts on Saturday, the weather service said.

(Reporting Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Exclusive: More than 1 million acres of U.S. cropland ravaged by floods

Justin Mensik, corn and soybean farmer, attends to his cattle at his farm in Morse Bluff, Nebraska, U.S. March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Humeyra Pamuk

By P.J. Huffstutter and Humeyra Pamuk

CHICAGO/COLUMBUS, Neb. (Reuters) – At least 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of U.S. farmland were flooded after the “bomb cyclone” storm left wide swaths of nine major grain producing states under water this month, satellite data analyzed by Gro Intelligence for Reuters showed.

Farms from the Dakotas to Missouri and beyond have been under water for a week or more, possibly impeding planting and damaging soil. The floods, which came just weeks before planting season starts in the Midwest, will likely reduce corn, wheat and soy production this year.

“There’s thousands of acres that won’t be able to be planted,” Ryan Sonderup, 36, of Fullerton, Nebraska, who has been farming for 18 years, said in a recent interview.

“If we had straight sunshine now until May and June, maybe it can be done, but I don’t see how that soil gets back with expected rainfall.”

FILE PHOTO: Paddocks at Washington County Fairgrounds are shown underwater due to flooding in Arlington, Nebraska, U.S., March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Humeyra Pamuk -File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Paddocks at Washington County Fairgrounds are shown underwater due to flooding in Arlington, Nebraska, U.S., March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Humeyra Pamuk -File Photo

Spring floods could yet impact an even bigger area of cropland. The U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned of what could be an “unprecedented flood season” as it forecasts heavy spring rains. Rivers may swell further as a deep snowpack in northern growing areas melts.

The bomb cyclone of mid-March was the latest blow to farmers suffering from years of falling income and lower exports because of the U.S.-China trade war.

Fields are strewn with everything from silt and sand to tires and some may not even be farmed this year. The water has also destroyed billions of dollars of old crops that were in storage, as well as damaging roads and railways.

Justin Mensik, a fifth-generation farmer of corn and soybeans in Morse Bluff, Nebraska, said rebuilding roads was the first priority. Then farmers would need to bring in fertilizer trucks and then test soil before seeding, Mensik said.

The flood “left a lot of silt and sand and mud in our fields, now we’re not too sure if we’re going to be able to get a good crop this year with all the new mud and junk that’s just laying here,” Mensik told Reuters.

CORN CONCERN

For farmers, “the biggest concern right now is corn planting,” said Aaron Saeugling, an agriculture expert at Iowa State University who does outreach with farmers. “There is just not going to be enough time to move a lot of that debris.”

To be fully covered by crop insurance, Iowa farmers must plant corn by May 31 and soybeans by June 15, as yields decline dramatically when planted any later. Deadlines vary state by state. The insurance helps ensure a minimum price farmers will receive when they book sales for their crops.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecast on Friday farmers would increase corn plantings by 4.1 percent from last year, but the estimate did not account for the flooding.

Nearly 1.1 million acres of cropland and more than 84,000 acres of pastureland in the U.S. Midwest had flood water on it for at least seven days between March 8 and March 21, according to a preliminary analysis of government and satellite data by New-York based Gro Intelligence at the request of Reuters. The extent of the flooding had previously not been made public.

The flooded acreage represents less than 1 percent of U.S. land used to grow corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, cotton, sorghum and barley. In 2018, some 240 million total acres of these crops were planted in the United States, USDA data shows.

Iowa, the top U.S. corn and No. 2 soy producing state, had the most water, covering 474,271 acres, followed by Missouri with 203,188 acres, according to Gro Intelligence. That was in line with estimates given to Reuters this week by government officials in Iowa and Missouri.

Gro Intelligence used satellite data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Near Real-Time Global Flood Mapping product, to calculate the approximate extent and intensity of flooding.

Gro Intelligence then identified how much of this area was either cropland or pastureland, according to data from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Gro Intelligence analysts cautioned the satellite imagery did not show the full extent of flooding in Nebraska, where officials declined to provide acreage estimates to Reuters, or in North Dakota. Nebraska’s governor has said the floods caused agricultural damage of $1 billion in his state.

Cloud cover or snow on the ground makes it difficult to identify the flood waters in NASA satellite data, said Sara Menker, chief executive of the agricultural artificial intelligence company.

LOST CATTLE

In Missouri, floodwaters covered roughly 200,000 acres in five northwest counties adjoining the Missouri River as of Wednesday morning, said Charlie Rahm, spokesman for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Columbia.

In Wisconsin more than 1,000 dairy and beef animals were lost during winter storms and 480 agricultural structures collapsed or damaged, according to an email from Sandy Chalmers, executive director of the Wisconsin state office of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

In the Dakotas and Minnesota, melting snows in coming months will put spring wheat planting at risk. Gro Intelligence found nearly 160,000 acres have already been flooded in Minnesota.

“That’s yet to come and we will deal with that at least until the middle of April,” said Dave Nicolai, an agriculture expert at the University of Minnesota.

(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago and Humeyra Pamuk in Nebraska; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek and Karl Plume in Chicago; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Simon Webb, Matthew Lewis and James Dalgleish)

Flooding will go on in storm-ravaged U.S. Midwest; $1 billion in damage, 4 dead

FILE PHOTO: A flooded parcel of land along the Platte River is pictured in this aerial photograph at La Platte, south of Omaha, Nebraska, U.S. March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Drone Base

(Reuters) – The flooding that devastated the U.S. Midwest is likely to last into next week, as rain and melted snow flow into Kansas, Missouri and Mississippi, the National Weather Service said.

Floods driven by melting snow in the Dakotas will persist even as Nebraska and Iowa dig out from storms that have killed four people, left one missing and caused more than a billion dollars in damage to crops, livestock and roads.

“It’s already not looking good downstream for the middle and lower Mississippi and Missouri (rivers) into Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri,” Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center, said early Wednesday.

The floodwaters have inundated a swath of Iowa and Nebraska along the Missouri River, North America’s longest river. Half of Iowa’s 99 counties have declared states of emergency.

“That snowpack is still there and it’s going to keep melting, and that’s bad news,” Oravec said.

About an inch of rain is predicted for Saturday in the region, Oravec said. “It’s not a lot, but any precipitation is bad right now.”

Vice President Mike Pence toured some of Nebraska Tuesday and promised to help expedite federal help to the region.

FILE PHOTO: Homes sit in flood waters after leaving casualities and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, with waters yet to crest in parts of the U.S. midwest, in Peru, Nebraska, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Karen Dillon

FILE PHOTO: Homes sit in flood waters after leaving casualities and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, with waters yet to crest in parts of the U.S. midwest, in Peru, Nebraska, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Karen Dillon

Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin and Mississippi all declared states of emergency after the floods, which stemmed from a powerful winter hurricane last week. The flooding killed livestock, destroyed grains and soybeans in storage and cut off access to farms because of road and rail damage.

Authorities said they had rescued nearly 300 people in Nebraska alone, with some rivers continuing to rise. Rescuers could be seen in boats pulling pets from flooded homes. Some roadways crumbled to rubble and sections of others were submerged. In Hamburg, Iowa, floodwaters covered buildings.

$1 BILLION IN DAMAGE

Nebraska officials estimated flood damage for the state’s agriculture at more than $1 billion so far, according to Craig Head, vice president of issue management at the Nebraska Farm Bureau. Head said that was likely to grow as floodwaters recede.

“It’s really too early to know for sure how bad this is going to get. But one thing we do know: It’s catastrophic for farmers,” said Matt Perdue, government relations director for the National Farmers Union. “We’re hoping it’s only $1 billion, but that’s only a hope.”

Nebraska officials estimate the floods have also caused $553 million in damage to public infrastructure and other assets, and $89 million to privately owned assets, according to the state’s Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday.

The water covered about a third of Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, home to the U.S. Strategic Command, whose responsibilities include defending against and responding to nuclear attacks.

The Army Corps of Engineers is distributing 400,000 sandbags to operators of 12 levees along the Missouri River in Missouri and Kansas that are threatened by flooding, the Army Corps said in a news release on Tuesday.

Roads leading to the Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper nuclear plant near Brownville were engulfed by floodwaters from the Missouri, but the facility was still operating safely at full power on Tuesday.

The plant operator was flying staff members and supplies to the plant by helicopter, power district spokesman Mark Becker said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Karen Dillon in Brownville, Neb., Gina Cherelus in New York, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, P.J. Huffstutter and Mark Weinraub in Chicago and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by Larry King)

Arctic blasts sub-zero freeze towards U.S. upper Midwest, Northeast

A boat collides under the rail bridge near the Corning Preserve, after breaking lose from its dock on the upper Hudson River and floating down stream towards Albany, New York, U.S., January 25, 2019, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – The U.S. Midwest and Northeast were braced for dangerous subzero temperatures this week, as the polar vortex was set to blast arctic conditions unusually far south, the National Weather Service said on Monday.

The system was set to extend from the Dakotas through New England, with Chicago expecting temperatures to plunge as low as -25 degrees Fahrenheit (-32 Celsius) overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, the weather service said.

The polar vortex – the frigid winds that circulate around the North Pole – is extending further south into the Upper Midwest, said weather service meteorologist Brian Hurley.

“If you live up in the Arctic Circle, you’d say this is pretty normal. When it’s actually brought down to this level, that’s when you know it’s something serious,” Hurley said in a telephone interview.

Blizzard conditions are predicted across parts of the western Ohio Valley and snow is expected Tuesday through Wednesday from the Great Lakes region into New England, the weather service said.

Snowfall will occur in the Dakotas, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota; and in Central Michigan, where a foot (30 cm) or more of snow is expected, the weather service said. Upstate New York, Vermont and New Hampshire will see less than a foot of snow, and Boston will get less than an inch (2.5 cm).

Chicago will take the main brunt of the supercold weather, with widespread heavy snow already affecting the area on Monday, the weather service said on Twitter. Wind chills as low as -50 F (-46C) were also expected by Tuesday evening through Thursday morning.

The service’s Des Moines, Iowa, branch said “dangerous, life-threatening cold air” will hit the Midwestern state from Tuesday morning through Friday morning, with wind chill values on Wednesday likely to range from minus 45 Fahrenheit (minus 43 C) to minus 55 Fahrenheit (minus 48 C) across the northern part of the state.

More than 600 flights into or out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport were canceled Monday morning and nearly 300 flights were delayed, according to FlightAware.com. More than 200 flights at Chicago’s Midway International Airport were canceled, but only about seven flights were delayed.

Delta Air Lines Inc said it would waive flight change fees for passengers affected by the winter weather in Chicago, Detroit and areas of the Upper Midwest.

(Reporting by Rich McKay, additional reporting by Maria Caspani and Gina Cherelus in New York; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Heavy snow hammers U.S. Midwest after holiday weekend

A driver clears the snow off his car during an early season snowfall in the Boston suburb of Medford, Massachusetts, U.S., November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

(Reuters) – Commuters in Chicago and across the Midwest faced inches of heavy, wet snow as they headed back to work on Monday after the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with the storm knocking out power, icing roads and canceling some flights.

The National Weather Service ended blizzard warnings early on Monday in northeast Missouri through the Chicago metropolitan area and northeast into Michigan, but noted strong winds of up to 45 miles per hour (72 kph) would continue to blow around drifts of the snow accumulated overnight.

“Snow will continue to taper off to flurries and then end this morning,” the service’s Chicago office said in a statement, warning drivers to take extra caution on slippery roads in low visibility.

“The drive into work was NASTY,” Diane Pathieu, an ABC7 Chicago news anchor, wrote on Twitter of her pre-dawn commute. “Roads barely plowed, wind blowing snow everywhere. Proceed with caution!”

North of Chicago, the city of Evanston’s police department said in a statement its power had been knocked out by the storm, although it was still able to receive 911 calls.

Dozens of school districts in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and Kansas canceled classes due to the weather. Chicago public schools were expected to open.

The storm canceled 1,270 flights on Sunday, a busy day for travelers trying to get home after the Thanksgiving weekend.

That included about 900 flights to and from Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Chicago Midway Airport and almost 200 flights at Kansas City International Airport.

On Monday morning, about 500 flights to and from O’Hare had been canceled, about 17 percent of all scheduled flights, according to the FlightAware flight tracking service.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Sunil Nair, Louise Heavens and Frances Kerry)

U.S. swelters with brutally hot temps on Fourth of July but relief in sight

FILE PHOTO: People sit in the shade and cool off in a fountain during a summer heat wave in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Tens of millions of Americans from the Midwest to the East Coast faced brutally hot temperatures and stifling humidity on the Fourth of July holiday on Wednesday, but forecasters said cooler, drier air is on the way by the weekend.

Heat advisories and excessive heat warnings were in effect through Wednesday night, with heat index values – which combine temperature and humidity – in major U.S. cities such as New York and Chicago expected to reach well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32°C), the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

“Relief is on the way, but don’t expect it before Friday night,” said Richard Bann, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“But it will cool off,” Bann said. “Instead of being in the 90s (Fahrenheit), it’ll dip into the mid-80s and with less humidity.”

“There’s a system of cool, dry air scooting across Canada and will dip down into the Midwest, parts of New York and New England by this weekend. And there’s a good chance for showers Friday night for much of the area.”

Until then, the dangerous heat wave will continue to sizzle a large swath of the U.S. Midwest and East Coast.

At least four people have died due to the heat over the last week, including a Pennsylvania woman who died while working in her garden on Saturday and a man who was running a race in New York on Sunday, CNN reported.

For the Fourth of July holiday, Dan Petersen, an NWS meteorologist, warned people celebrating outside to remain in the shade and drink plenty of fluids.

“Anyone outside in locations with expanded areas of heat is going to have to take precautions,” he said. “This is the peak of summer – the hottest time of the year.”

Later this week, a storm front is expected to roll through and cool down the Eastern Seaboard for the weekend, Petersen said. It is likely to provide relief to Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia on Friday night before heading down to the Carolinas.

In a reversal of normal patterns, Petersen said, the hot weather will head west, hitting the central United States late in the week before reaching Los Angeles and San Diego on Friday.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Phil Berlowitz)

Heat wave wilts much of U.S. Midwest, Northeast

A man sits in the shade at Riverbank State Park during very hot weather in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Suzannah Gonzales

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Chicago and St. Louis sweltered on Monday at the center of a heat wave that stretched across the U.S. Midwest and Northeast, although relief could come as soon as Monday evening in some areas.

After a hot weekend, the temperature reached 91 Fahrenheit (33 Celsius) in Chicago and 92F in St. Louis by early afternoon, the National Weather Service said, with both cities opening air-conditioned cooling centers to the public.

The heat index, which factors in humidity, hit 100F in St. Louis. Similar heat in Detroit compelled the city to announce it would close many public schools three hours early on Monday, the Detroit News reported.

“This type of heat wave is typical for early summer,” said Bob Oravec, a weather service forecaster, adding everywhere from Kansas City, Missouri, to Boston and Washington were experiencing above-average temperatures. “It’s not astronomical.”

Cleveland, Ohio, broke a record on Sunday for its hottest June 17 on record with the mercury reaching 94F, Oravec said.

A Chicago native, Sharonda Williams, 31, carried a frozen drink as she returned to work at an outdoor kiosk for a bus tour company on Monday afternoon.

“It’s hot, but you really can’t complain,” she said. “When it’s freezing cold, you’re wishing for the hot weather. But now that we got it, you want the freezing cold. You can’t win.”

The National Weather Service forecasts a rapid cool-down on Monday evening in Chicago as cooler weather blew in off Lake Michigan, with the possibility of scattered thunderstorms.

The Great Lakes and Northeast regions, where many local governments issued warnings of poor air quality, will also cool down as the week goes by with the arrival of thunderstorms as a cold front presses south, the weather service said.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Diana Kruzman in New York; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. Upper Midwest factory sector grows fastest in three years

Steam is seen drifting from a factory over the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in this February, 6, 2014 file photo.

(Reuters) – A gauge of factory activity in the U.S. Upper Midwest improved to the strongest level in over three years in December, led by much stronger readings on new orders and production, according a private survey released on Friday.

Marquette University and the Institute for Supply Management-Milwaukee said their seasonally adjusted index on manufacturing in the Milwaukee region rose to 65.57 this month from 59.62 in November.

The December figure was the highest since November 2014 when it was 68.9.

A reading above 50 indicates regional factory activity is expanding.

The upbeat snapshot of upper Midwest business activity coincided with a jump in a similar measure for the Chicago area.

On Thursday, MNI Indicators and ISM-Chicago said their jointly developed Chicago Purchase Management Index rose to 67.6 in December, the highest since March 2011.

The Marquette University and Milwaukee ISM survey’s component on new orders, a proxy on future activity, increased to 88.33 from 66.46 last month, while its production gauge improved to 72.65 from 57.94.

Not all the components improved in December. The survey’s employment index fell to 58.67 from 61.73, while its six-month outlook gauge slipped to 71.43 from 73.33.

(Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)