By James B. Kelleher
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Forecasters issued a severe storm watch on Thursday afternoon for parts of Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, warning of possible large hail, wind gusts of up to 70 miles an hour and dangerous lightning in a region raked by deadly tornadoes less than two weeks ago.
The Storm Prediction Center said the severe thunderstorm watch was in effect for southern Indiana, central Kentucky and middle Tennessee through 10 p. m. Thursday.
Further north, the Weather Service issued severe thunderstorm warnings and watches for much of southeast Michigan.
The biggest risk was of large hail and damaging winds, but the Weather Service warned that "severe thunderstorms can and occasionally do produce tornadoes."
Two weeks ago this Friday, a chain of fast-moving tornadoes spawned by massive thunderstorms cut a swath of destruction from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, killing dozens of people. Indiana and Kentucky were especially hard hit by the twisters.
The severe thunderstorm warnings came as much of the country east of the Rocky Mountains enjoyed yet another day of unseasonably high temperatures.
New record highs for the day were set from Macon, Georgia to Madison, Wisconsin to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
In Madison, where the previous high for March 15 was 69 degrees, temperatures reached 81 degrees Thursday.
"They just destroyed that record," said Dave Samuhel, a meteorologist at Accuweather.com. "We're seeing a lot of that in Wisconsin."
In Chicago, the official temperature at O'Hare International Airport on Thursday afternoon was 79 degrees, 5 degrees above the previous record for the day, and Indianapolis topped out at 80 degrees, 3 degrees above the old record.
Samuhel said the warm air covering much of the country's midsection was helping fuel the storms the Weather Service warned about on Thursday.
"It's just so warm that we're seeing thunderstorms pop up like popcorn the way you see it in the summertime," he said.
Accuweather.com said the unseasonably warm weather west of the Plains would continue into next week and spread further east into places like New York City, where residents were experiencing a more typical spring day on Thursday as winds out of the northeast kept daytime highs in the 40s.
(Editing by Paul Thomasch)