By Timothy Mclaughlin
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The National Weather Service on Monday issued a tornado watch for a large swath of the Midwestern United States, warning of possible wind gusts up to 70 mph (113 kph) and tennis ball-sized hail in some areas.
Nearly all of Iowa, as well as parts of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin were under the tornado watch, which was in effect until 10 p.m. local time.
"Numerous severe storms are expected starting late this afternoon and continuing into tonight across the central states," the weather service said.
"The greatest concentration of tornadoes, a couple of which may be strong, damaging winds, and large hail is expected to be across the Ozark Plateau to the Mid-Mississippi Valley."
Gusts of up to 70 mph (113 kph) were forecast in northeast Kansas, northwest Missouri, southeastern Nebraska and much of Iowa, with hail ranging in size from a lime to a tennis ball expected to fall.
Trent Pittman, a member of the Johnson County Emergency Management team in Johnson City, Kansas, some 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Kansas City, urged residents to keep informed about weather developments.
"You really want to stay specifically severe weather aware right now," he said Monday afternoon.
The peak of tornado season for the Southern Plains of the United States runs from May to early June, according to the National Weather Service. In the northern plains and upper Midwest, tornadoes are most frequent in June or July.
But severe storms killed three people in Illinois and Missouri last week.
Southern to central Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin could see gusts of up to 65 mph (105 kph) on Monday, the National Weather Service said and ping pong ball-sized hail.
A tornado touching down in Minnesota would set a record for the earliest tornado in the state, surpassing by almost two weeks the current record of March 18, 1968, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by James Dalgleish)