Storms cause large tornadoes that flood the south

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Residents in several Louisiana and Mississippi cities took cover as tornado sirens wailed late Tuesday, warning forecasters of the threat of powerful vortices capable of tracking long distances on the ground when a Severe weather outbreak broke out in the US Deep South.

There were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries as multiple tornado warnings were issued beginning Tuesday afternoon and continuing into the night hours as severe thunderstorms rolled from east Texas into Georgia and as far north as Indiana. The National Weather Service Approved that tornadoes hit the ground in Mississippi Tuesday night and Alabama was in the predicted path of the storms during the night hours.

More than 25 million people were at risk from the huge storm system. This was announced by the national storm forecast center in its storm outlook that affected cities could include New Orleans; Memphis and Nashville in Tennessee; and Birmingham, Alabama.

The NWS received reports of people trapped in a grocery store in Caledonia, Mississippi, just after 6 p.m., Lowndes County Emergency Management Agency director Cindy Lawrence told WTVA-TV The folks at the grocery store sure did it. Lawrence also said a family trapped in a house about a mile from the store escaped.

The NWS was receiving more reports of property damage near Columbus, according to Lance Perrilloux, a forecaster for the agency.

Heavy rain and hail the size of tennis balls were also a possibility as forecasters said the weather outbreak was expected to last through Wednesday.

In western Alabama, a suspected tornado damaged numerous homes in Hale County, according to storm damage reports to the National Weather Service. Around 29,000 customers were without power early Wednesday morning.

And in the western Alabama town of Eutaw, video from WBMA-TV showed large sections of the roof missing from an apartment complex where residents stood outside in the middle of the night.

“We have power lines, trees all over the road,” Eutaw Police Chief Tommy Johnson told WBRC-TV. “In the morning when we get a bit of daylight we’ll search door by door to make sure nobody’s locked inside or anything.”

So far, however, there have been no reports of injuries. “We have no reports of injuries or anything like that,” he said.

Craig Ceecee, a meteorologist at Mississippi State University, peered through the door of a tornado shelter in Starkville at the “incredibly black” sky. He estimated that about 100 people had already arrived when a thunderstorm continued outside.

The Oktibbeha County Disaster Management Agency operates the emergency shelter, about three miles from the university campus. Ceecee said the dome-shaped multi-purpose facility can withstand winds of 400 km/h.

Ahead of Tuesday’s storm, Ceecee was building a database of Mississippi tornado shelters. He said there are several cities without any.

“I’ve had to go through events without (accommodations), and believe me, they were scary,” Ceecee said.

In the small town of Tchula, Mississippi, hailstones slammed into city hall windows as the mayor and other residents ducked for cover during a tornado warning. “It hit the window and you could tell they were nice big balls,” Mayor Ann Polk said after the storm passed.

It’s rare for federal forecasters to warn of large tornadoes with the potential to cause long-distance damage in their wake, as they did in Tuesday’s forecasts. Tornado watches, covering much of Louisiana and Mississippi, were announced due to “a particularly dangerous situation,” the NWS said.

“Supercells are expected to develop this afternoon, tracking much of northeast Louisiana and central Mississippi northeast,” the weather service said. “Parameters appear favorable for strong and long-tracked tornadoes this afternoon and early evening.”

The storm’s most violent wave should sweep through Mississippi between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., said Sarah Sickles, an NWS forecaster in the state capital of Jackson.

“Several rounds of severe thunderstorms — some may cause long-track tornadoes with EF3+ damage potential — will be possible this afternoon through tonight over portions of the lower Mississippi Valley region and mid-South,” said the Norman, Oklahoma-based Storm Prediction Center said .

Tornadoes rated EF3 on the Fujita Extended Tornado Scale can generate wind gusts of up to 165 mph (266 km/h).

All remaining classes at Mississippi State University’s main campus in Starkville were switched to distance learning Tuesday due to the weather. The campus was scheduled to host a Mississippi State vs. University of Louisiana-Monroe women’s basketball game, but the venue was closed to spectators. Alcorn State University and the University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg closed early.

Some of Mississippi’s public school systems also closed early.

Flood warnings have been issued for parts of southeast Mississippi and southwest Alabama where 3 to 5 inches of rain (8 to 13 centimeters) could result in flash flooding, the National Weather Service said.

Heavy snow disrupted traffic in some parts of the upper Midwest.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport tweeted Tuesday afternoon that its runways were closed due to rapid snowfall and reduced visibility. Air traffic websites showed some incoming planes circling or diverting to other airports such as St. Cloud, Minnesota, and Fargo, North Dakota. The National Weather Service reported nearly 4 inches (10) of snow on the ground at the airport by noon.


Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Michael Goldberg of Jackson, Mississippi; Sara Cline in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.