An outbreak of severe weather threatened the south-central United States as severe thunderstorms and multiple tornadoes battered the region on Tuesday, while what AccuWeather called an “atmospheric fire hose” was expected to hit the West.
Bracing for a week of wild and dangerous weather, the National Weather Service issued tornado watches across large swaths of the south-central region, particularly in Louisiana and Mississippi where the weather service warned of “a particularly dangerous”. Watches are in effect until early Wednesday.
“Parameters appear favorable for strong, long-lasting tornadoes this afternoon and early evening,” the weather service said, emphasizing northeast Louisiana and central Mississippi.
Residents of several cities in Louisiana and Mississippi took cover as tornado sirens sounded late Tuesday, and forecasters warned of the threat of powerful tornadoes capable of tracking long distances on the ground as an outbreak of severe weather was breaking out in the Deep South.
Multiple tornado warnings were issued starting Tuesday afternoon and continuing into the night as severe thunderstorms rolled from eastern Texas to Georgia and as far north as Indiana. The National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes touched down in Mississippi Tuesday night and Alabama was in the storms’ predicted path overnight.
Local officials across the region reported early structural damage after the tornadoes spread.
Long-track tornadoes could produce wind gusts of up to 165 mph. As a precaution, some public school districts in Mississippi ended classes and activities early, and Mississippi State University at Starkville moved to online instruction.
The combination of storms that forecasters are predicting could fuel major travel disruptions, like the temporary runway closures in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Tuesday afternoon due to snow and reduced visibility.
Forty million people from Indiana and Illinois to Texas were at risk of severe thunderstorms and possibly tornadoes on Tuesday alone, AccuWeather said. The National Weather Service warned that severe weather was likely Tuesday in part of the Mississippi Valley: Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
The Weather Service’s Indianapolis office warned on Twitter that “damaging winds will be the primary threat with lightning and isolated weak tornadoes also possible.” The Chicago office cited the “threat of isolated bursts strong enough to knock down tree branches”.
WHAT IS A NOR’EASTER?Storms can hit the East Coast with snow and affect millions
Major structural damage was reported in the south as tornadoes hit the area Tuesday night.
Local officials reported that a large metal barn had been destroyed and torn apart by storms in Leighton, Alabama. The tornado moved across the Alabama state line into western Mississippi where a nearby church had a toppled steeple in Lowndes County.
In Caldwell Parish, Louisiana, Sheriff Clay Bennett confirmed that two people were injured when a tornado damaged several homes. Trees also reportedly fell on homes in the parish as debris flew through the air.
The Storm Prediction Center has issued a tornado watch for parts of Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas that will be in effect through Wednesday morning. The region can expect multiple tornadoes, damaging winds, hail and severe thunderstorms throughout the night, the center added.
A tornado was first spotted in central Mississippi Tuesday afternoon near the town of Vaiden, about 80 miles northeast of Jackson. According to AccuWeather, the storm was moving northeast at 50 mph at the time. Hail the size of a tennis ball was also reported in the area.
Two more tornadoes were confirmed to hit Mississippi on Tuesday The Weather Service said a tree fell on a home due to a tornado in Choctaw County, about 100 miles northeast of Jackson.
A large destructive tornado moved through Caldwell Parish, Louisiana around 7:15 p.m. local time. The weather service confirmed damage in the southeastern part of the parish.
A storm bringing severe weather and possible tornadoes to parts of the south Tuesday through Wednesday will bring a burst of high winds as colder air blows from the Midwest to the northeast, AccuWeather meteorologists warned. High winds and heavy snowfall in some areas could trigger power outages and travel delays.
More than 125 million people from the Midwest to the northeast could face wind gusts of up to 85 mph, AccuWeather said.
THOUSANDS OF DELAYED FLIGHTS:30M at risk of tornadoes, severe storms
To the west, a strong cold front accompanied by powerful winds and heavy snowfall swept through parts of the Upper Midwest on Tuesday.
“Heavy snowfall will form over parts of the Mississippi Valley and upper Great Lakes, triggering winter storm warnings and winter weather advisories in the region,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Ziegenfelder.
WHAT IS AN ATMOSPHERIC RIVER?These rivers of water vapor can stretch for thousands of kilometres.
The Pacific coast will not be exempt from the wild weather. A burst of intense moisture known as an Atmospheric River, or Intense Moisture Plume, will target part of the West Coast and move south by mid-week, AccuWeather said. Seattle could see its first snowfall of the season, and an 8-12 a.m. “intense” rainfall spell could bring dangerous conditions to western Washington from Tuesday night through Wednesday, forecasters said.
The storm will roll through northern California Wednesday through Thursday. Southern California could see excessive rain at the end of the week, AccuWeather warned.
WHAT IS THE STORM? Explain how a thunderstorm can produce snow
“While mountain rain and snow are beneficial from a drought perspective, enough can fall to cause travel delays and disruptions,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Haley Taylor.
Contributor: The Associated Press