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)

Land of the freeze: arctic wave hits U.S. Midwest, Northeast

Trees are seen after the record snowfall in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 26, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken December 26, 2017.

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Most of the U.S. Northeast and Midwest grappled with a post-Christmas deep freeze on Thursday, with temperatures expected to plunge as low as minus 20 degrees F (minus 29 C) in North Dakota as forecasters warned that the harsh winter weather could usher in the New Year.

Tioga, about 200 miles (322 km) north of Bismarck, took honors as the coldest spot in the continental United States, according to National Weather Service (NWS) spokesman Bob Oravec. The mercury dived to minus 15 F early on Thursday afternoon.

“By tomorrow morning, low temperatures will probably be 15 to 20 degrees below zero in the northern and northwestern areas of North Dakota, maybe even in north Minnesota,” Oravec said.

On Wednesday, International Falls, Minnesota, about 300 miles north of Minneapolis, lived up to its reputation as the “Icebox of the Nation.” The low temperature there dropped to 37 degrees F below zero, breaking the old record for the day of 32 degrees below, set in 1924. Temperatures moderated to minus 2 F on Thursday.

Mayor Bob Anderson told Reuters that a local paper mill had to reduce operations because of the cold. But he said mail was still being delivered, and the town’s roughly 6,000 weather-hardened residents were taking the cold in stride.

For most of the region encompassing New England, northern Pennsylvania and New York, the NWS issued wind chill advisories or warnings. Temperatures in the region ranged from highs in the teens and 20s F to lows in the single digits or below zero.

For upstate New York, east of Lake Ontario, the NWS warned of “dangerously” cold wind chills of minus 5 F to minus 30 F through Friday. In northern Vermont, conditions are even more brutal, with wind chills threatening to bottom out at minus 40 F.

On Twitter, the hashtag #ItsSoCold was the No. 1 trending topic in the United States on Thursday as social media users expressed their frustration with Old Man Winter.

“When your landlord doesn’t have the heat on during the workweek so the cat sitting in your lap isn’t just cute, but also practical. #ItsSoCold,” wrote user Walton Clark on Twitter.

Erie, a city of about 100,000 on the shores of Lake Erie in northwest Pennsylvania, was expecting a fresh round of winter storms that could bring as much as an additional 10 inches (25 cm) of “lake effect” snow, forecasters said. The area is already buried under more than 65 inches from a record-breaking storm earlier this week.

The accumulations, heavy even by the standards of the Great Lakes’ eastern shores, resulted from a wave of Arctic air moving across the relatively mild waters of the lake, forecasters said.

Light and heavy snow was also expected to fall this weekend in many other parts of the United States, from Montana to Maine, forecasters said.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Labor activists target Midwest politicians opposing wage increases

FILE PHOTO: Protest signs are pictured in SeaTac, Washington just before a march from SeaTac to Seattle aimed at the fast food industry and raising the federal minimum wage and Seattle's minimum wage to $15 an hour December 5, 2013. REUTERS/David Ryder/File Photo

By Chris Kenning

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. activists plan protests in up to 400 cities across the United States on Monday’s Labor Day holiday to demand a minimum wage of $15 an hour, and are targeting politicians in Midwestern battleground states who have blocked such salary increases.

The demonstrations, backed by the Service Employees International Union, will focus on hospital and home care workers, joining the fast-food and janitorial staffers who have protested since the “Fight for $15” movement started in 2012.

The movement has helped to spur politicians in a growing number of cities such as New York, Seattle, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., to adopt measures that over time raise minimum wages to $15 an hour.

Organizers are also increasing pressure on legislatures and governors, particularly in the Midwest, that have blocked or rolled back increases.

The increased focus on politicians who oppose wage increases may capture some of the populist job-related voter discontent in traditionally Democratic Midwest states that helped U.S. President Donald Trump win the White House, said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“The minimum wage issue is one (issue) they can immediately identify with because it affects their pocketbook with every paycheck,” he said.

Republican Governor Scott Walker of the presidential swing state of Wisconsin is among those targeted, as is Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who last month vetoed raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2022, saying it would hurt employment and businesses.

“I’m doing 40 hours of campaigning and knocking on doors and making phone calls, whatever it takes to get Walker out of office,” Milwaukee hospital worker Margie Breelove said.

A voter-engagement drive, also slated to begin on Monday, seeks thousands of workers to pledge to volunteer 40 hours leading up to the 2018 elections.

The idea is to support candidates, most of them Democrats, for state legislatures or governor who favor wage hikes and union rights in such states as Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Illinois, along with other areas outside the Midwest.

“It’s not just about taking out people that have been rigging the rules against us, it’s backing candidates who are prepared to support our agenda,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said in a telephone interview.

Representatives for the governors of Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Opponents of raising the current federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25 argue that it hurts businesses. The federal minimum wage was last increased in 2009.

But supporters of an increase say the current level is not enough to live on and helps fuel the need for social safety-net programs. They point to studies showing little impact on jobs.

Under a law approved last year, California set a $15 target for all workers, which it plans to reach in 2023. New York state is also gradually increasing its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers. Cities, including Minneapolis, have also approved such legislation.

However, since 2016, eight states, including Alabama, Kentucky and Iowa, have passed laws pre-empting local wage laws, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

St. Louis’ minimum wage, which had increased to $10 an hour, recently reverted to $7.70 after the legislature prohibited cities from creating separate wage laws. Missouri Governor Eric Greitens had opposed the increase.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

At least one killed as tornado tears though dozens of Oklahoma homes: media

(Reuters) – A tornado tore through western Oklahoma on Tuesday evening, destroying or damaging dozens of homes and killing at least one person, media reported.

As many as 70 homes in Elk City, a town of about 12,000 people around 110 miles (180 km) west of Oklahoma City, were damaged or destroyed by the storm, CBS affiliate KWTV reported, citing officials.

One person in a car was killed, the station reported, citing an emergency response official. It was unclear how many people were injured, KWTV said.

The majority of damage occurred on the south side of the city, the Elk City Police Department said in a statement. The department told residents to stay home because power lines were down across the city. The department’s phone lines were also down, it added.

Elk City Public Schools were canceled for Wednesday, the school system said in a statement.

“My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the tornado in Elk City tonight,” Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Rain threatens U.S. Midwest as flooding force hundreds from homes

Long Creek Bridge on 86 highway, flooding Photo By Austin Metcalf

(Reuters) – Unrelenting rain will drench the already saturated U.S. Midwest on Thursday and Friday, forecasters said, after floods in the region killed at least five people and forced residents in vulnerable areas to evacuate their flooded communities.

Parts of Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Indiana and Oklahoma could see as much as an additional 4 inches (10 cm) of rain as a slow-moving system is expected to hover over the region for at least one more day, the National Weather Service said in flood warnings and watches.

“The flooding in the middle part of the county has been unbelievable over the last couple of days … and we have more rain on the way, if you can believe that,” Weather.com meteorologist Ari Sarsalari said during his forecast on Wednesday night.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings and watches along waterways from eastern Texas north through Indiana and into northwestern Ohio as forecasters expected most of the rivers across the U.S. Midwest to crest over the weekend.

Branson Landing in Branson, Missouri. Photo by Austin Metcalf

Branson Landing in Branson, Missouri.
Photo by Austin Metcalf

The rain comes after five people were killed in flooding in Missouri, the last two of them swept from their cars on Monday and Tuesday, after a storm dumped almost 12 inches (30 cm) of rain in the region over the weekend, the National Weather Service said.

Schools throughout the Midwest canceled classes on Thursday as dozens of roadways and parts of interstate highways remained under water. Amtrak also suspended service in Missouri until at least Saturday, it said in a statement.

The heavy rains have caused levees to fail or to be breached along the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio rivers and their tributaries over the last few days.

Hundreds of people in places like Eureka, Missouri and Pocahontas, Arkansas have heeded evacuation orders and advisories after building walls of sandbags to protect their homes and businesses from the rising waters.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Torrential rains, damaging winds on tap for U.S. midsection

Stormy weather Courtesy of Pixabay

(Reuters) – A dangerous storm front will thrash the U.S. midsection over the weekend with torrential rainfall, damaging winds and large hail that will leave behind the threat of flooding throughout the region, the National Weather Service warned.

On Friday night, thunderstorms had already clobbered several communities in the southern Midwest with winds that took down trees and power lines while a reported rain-wrapped tornado in Lawrence, Illinois damaged a house, destroyed a structure and caused power outages, the weather service said.

On Saturday, a large swath of the region – from northern Texas up through Michigan – can expect torrential downpours that will produce 7 inches (18 cm) of rain, large hail and damaging wind gusts of 60 miles (95 km) per hour, the weather service predicted.

“The widespread and very heavy rain may produce life threatening flash flooding,” the weather service said in an advisory.

Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma told travelers on Twitter to “expect delays” and to check their flight with their airline as severe weather moves through the area.

The region has already received about 400 percent or more of normal moisture in the last week and will be highly sensitive to additional rainfall, the service said.

Evacuations could be necessary as areas along swollen waterways could see widespread flooding as the weather service issued flood warnings and watches for the weekend and into next week.

“Be very careful if out in the flooding rain. Many road closures. Never drive through a flooded road,” tweeted Ben Pine, a meteorologist for an ABC affiliate in Louisville, Kentucky.

To the west, a winter storm was expected to dump as much as a foot of wet, heavy snow (30 cm) in parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Texas, the National Weather Service said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Toby Chopra)

U.S. Southeast, Midwest face threat of severe storms, potential tornadoes

Stock photo of a thunderstorm that could produce tornadoes. Courtesy of Pixabay

(Reuters) – A dangerous weather system packing severe thunderstorms was expected to roll through the U.S. Southeast and parts of the Midwest on Wednesday, bringing with it the threat of tornadoes, forecasters said.

The region faced the threat of supercells developing throughout the day as very large hail and damaging straight-line wind appear to be likely, the National Weather Service said in an advisory.

At about 5:30 a.m. local time, a thunderstorm was moving northeast of Anniston, Alabama, at 55 miles (89 km) per hour, bringing with it hail the size of golf balls and 60 mile (98 km) per hour wind gusts, the Weather Service reported.

“For your protection move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a building,” the National Weather Service warned in an advisory.

Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina faced a heightened chance of tornadoes and potential flash flooding during the day.

The 5.7 million people who live in the Atlanta metro area should expect as much as 2-1/2 inches (6 cm) of rain throughout the day and into the evening, the service said.

Dozens of school districts in Alabama and Georgia canceled classes while Alabama Governor Robert Bentley issued a state of emergency ahead of the storm front.

“Alabama is no stranger to the impact severe weather can have on communities and the devastation that can occur when the weather takes a turn for the worse,” Bentley said in a statement.

The severe weather comes days after a powerful storm system in the southeastern U.S. killed four people, including a woman who was swept away by flood waters while she called 911.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Storms, tornadoes rake Midwest as high winds fuel prairie fires

By Timothy Mclaughlin

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A line of thunderstorms packing hail and isolated tornadoes rumbled across the Midwest from Oklahoma to Minnesota on Monday as wind-fueled prairie fires forced thousands of people from their homes in Colorado and Kansas.

Police and National Weather Service meteorologists reported some power outages but no initial major damage from the storms carrying winds of 60 miles per hour (96 kph) and hail 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter as they rolled east.

A tornado touched down in Smithville, Missouri, a Kansas City suburb, damaging 10 to 12 homes and displacing a few families but causing no major injuries, Police Chief Jason Lockridge said.

“Rain was minimal, it was just high winds and what was described as a funnel cloud,” he said in a telephone interview.

Areas of eastern Missouri and Iowa and western Illinois were under a tornado watch until early on Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service said.

The storms were largely to the east of an area stretching from the Texas Panhandle into Colorado, Nebraska and western Missouri that was under a “red flag” weather service warning for fires because of high winds, warm temperatures and dry conditions.

Twenty counties in central Kansas reported brush fires on Monday, some more than one, fueled by winds gusting to up 60 mph, said Katie Horner, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department.

Ten towns were forced to evacuate residents because of the fire threat, including 10,000 to 12,000 from the city of Hutchinson, she said.

Helicopters from the Kansas National Guard were being used to dump water on the fires, she said. “It’s just a massive undertaking,” Horner said.

A prairie fire in northeast Colorado had burned about 25,000 acres (10,100 hectares), and officials said about 1,000 people in small farming towns were under evacuation or pre-evacuation orders.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago, Keith Coffman in Denver and Ian Simpson in Washinton; Editing by James Dalgleish and Paul Tait)

Storms move east after killing three in U.S. Midwest

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Tornadoes and storms that already have killed at least three people and destroyed homes in the U.S. Midwest are moving east on Wednesday, the National Weather Service and media reported.

Tornado watches remained in effect from northeast Arkansas north into Ohio and eastern Pennsylvania for Wednesday morning after the band of storms rolled through the Midwest on Tuesday night, the National Weather Service said.

“Widespread damaging winds can be expected, along with some tornado risk,” the service said in an advisory.

The storm system will continue moving east toward the Atlantic Ocean, according to AccuWeather meteorologists. This is likely to bring severe thunderstorms and possible travel delays later on Wednesday to New York City, Washington, Philadelphia and Boston.

The storm has left tens of thousands of people without electricity and killed at least three people, according to local officials and media reports. One person died while driving on a Missouri freeway after strong winds swept old cars from a nearby junkyard onto the road.

Tornado spotters have already reported at least 23 twisters in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Tennessee and Indiana on Tuesday evening, the National Weather Service said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Construction resumes on Dakota pipeline despite tribe’s challenge

police vehicles monitoring construction of pipeline

By Terray Sylvester and Liz Hampton

CANNON BALL, N.D./HOUSTON (Reuters) – The company building an oil pipeline that has fueled sustained public protests said on Thursday it has started drilling under a North Dakota lake despite a last-ditch legal challenge from a Native American tribe leading the opposition.

Energy Transfer Partners LP <ETP.N> is building the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) to move crude from the Northern Plains to the Midwest and then on to the Gulf of Mexico, now saying it could be operational by early May.

The project had been put on hold under the administration of former Democratic President Barack Obama, but new President Donald Trump, a Republican, helped put it back on track.

The federal government this week cleared way for the project to resume, leading the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to file a court challenge on Thursday seeking a temporary restraining order to halt construction and drilling for the pipeline.

The court set oral arguments on the legal challenge for Monday.

Legal experts say the tribe faces long odds in convincing any court to halt construction,

Energy Transfer Partners needs only to cross beneath Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River system, to connect a final 1,100-foot (335 meter) gap in the 1,170-mile (1,885 km) pipeline, which will move oil from the Bakken shale formation to a terminus in Patoka, Illinois.

From there the oil would flow to another pipeline connecting south-central Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico and that region’s numerous oil refineries.

Native American tribes and climate activists have vowed to fight the pipeline, fearing it will desecrate sacred sites and endanger a source of the country’s largest drinking water reservoir.

“This administration (Trump’s) has expressed utter and complete disregard for not only our treaty and water rights, but the environment as a whole,” the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said on Thursday in a statement on its website.

Supporters say the pipeline will be safer than transporting oil by rail or road, and industry leaders have praised the project for creating high-paying jobs

With work on the final tranche now under way, Energy Transfer Partners expects the Dakota Access Pipeline to begin operations in approximately 83 days, according to a company spokeswoman.

“We have started to drill to go beneath Lake Oahe and expect to be completed in 60 days with another 23 days to fill the line to Patoka,” spokeswoman Vicki Granado said in an email.

She declined to specify when drilling began except that it was after the company received federal permission on Wednesday.

Public opposition drew thousands of people to the North Dakota plains last year including high-profile political and celebrity supporters. Large protest camps popped up near the site, leading to several violent clashes and some 700 arrests.

A few hardy protesters have remained camped out near the lake, braving sub-freezing temperatures.

Among them is Frank Archambault, 45, who has lived in the camp since August when he left his home on the Standing Rock reservation.

“It angers me. It angers me because people are pushing other people around, breaking laws,” Archambault said. “They’re trying to kill us off by contaminating the water. We’ve had enough.”

Ptery Light, 55, of Portland, Oregon, who has lived in the main camp since Oct. 31, said he was not giving up hope.

“I just pray that there’s no oil spill,” Light said. “This is purely about greed.”

For now, their hopes are pinned on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe winning a legal victory.

To obtain the temporary restraining order, the tribe must convince the judge there will be immediate harm suffered and prove it has a strong overall case should its lawsuit to halt the project result in a full trial.

The U.S. district judge in the case, James Boasberg, previously rejected the tribe’s request to block the project, ruling in September that the Army Corps of Engineers likely complied with the law in permitting the pipeline to go forward.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis in New York)