JACKSON, Ms. (AP) — Residents of several cities in Louisiana and Mississippi took cover as tornado sirens blared late Tuesday, and forecasters warned of the threat of strong twisters capable of tracking long distances on the ground as a severe weather outbreak hit. erupted in the Deep South.
There were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries as multiple tornado warnings were issued beginning Tuesday afternoon and continued into the overnight hours as severe thunderstorms rolled from east Texas into Georgia and into northern Indiana. The National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes touched down in Mississippi on Tuesday evening and that Alabama was in the predicted path of the storms during overnight hours.
More than 25 million people were at risk from the massive storm system. The National Storm Forecast Center reports this in its storm forecasts that affected cities could include New Orleans; Memphis and Nashville in Tennessee; and Birmingham, Alabama.
The NWS received reports just after 6 p.m. of people trapped inside a grocery store in Caledonia, Mississippi, Lowndes County Emergency Management Agency director Cindy Lawrence told WTVA-TV the people in the grocery shop got out safe. Lawrence also said a family trapped in a house about a mile from the store escaped.
According to Lance Perrilloux, a forecaster with the agency, the NWS received additional reports of property damage near Columbus.
Heavy rain and hail the size of tennis balls were also possible as forecasters said the weather outbreak was expected to last into Wednesday.
In western Alabama, a suspected tornado damaged numerous homes in Hale County, according to storm damage reports to the National Weather Service. Some 29,000 customers were without power early Wednesday morning.
Craig Ceecee, a meteorologist at Mississippi State University, peered through the door of a tornado shelter in Starkville at “incredibly black” skies. He estimated that about 100 people had already arrived because a thunderstorm persisted outside.
The Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Bureau manages the shelter, located about three miles from the university campus. Ceecee said the domed multi-purpose facility can withstand winds of up to 400 km/h.
Before Tuesday’s storm, Ceecee built a database of Mississippi tornado shelters. He said there are several cities without it.
“I’ve had to go through events without (hideouts), and believe me, they were scary,” Ceecee said.
In the small town of Tchula, Mississippi, hailstones smashed against the windows of City Hall as the mayor and other residents took cover during a tornado warning. “It hit the window and you could tell they were nice big balls,” said Mayor Ann Polk after the storm passed.
It’s rare for federal forecasters to warn of large tornadoes with the potential for long-range cutting damage, as they did in Tuesday’s forecasts. Tornado watches covering much of Louisiana and Mississippi were announced due to “a particularly dangerous situation,” according to the NWS.
“Supercells are expected to develop this afternoon and move northeast through much of northeast Louisiana and central Mississippi,” the weather service said. “Parameters appear favorable for strong and long-stretched tornadoes this afternoon and early evening.”
The storm’s most intense wave was expected to pass through Mississippi between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., said Sarah Sickles, an NWS forecaster in Jackson, the state’s capitol.
“Multiple rounds of severe thunderstorms — some capable of long-tracked tornadoes with EF3+ damage potential — will be possible this afternoon through tonight over parts of the lower Mississippi Valley region and Mid-South,” it said in Norman, Oklahoma. established Storm Prediction Center. .
Tornadoes with an EF3 rating on the Enhanced Fujita Tornado Scale can produce wind gusts of up to 266 km/h.
All remaining classes at Mississippi State University’s main campus in Starkville switched to remote instruction Tuesday due to weather. A Mississippi State women’s basketball game against the University of Louisiana-Monroe was scheduled to be played on campus, but the venue was closed to spectators. Alcorn State University and the University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg closed early.
Some Mississippi public school systems also closed early.
Flood watches were issued for parts of Southeast Mississippi and Southwest Alabama, where 3 to 5 inches of rain (8 to 13 centimeters) could lead to flash flooding, the National Weather Service said.
Meanwhile, heavy snow brought heavy traffic to some parts of the Upper Midwest.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport tweeted Tuesday afternoon that 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 in Jackson, Mississippi; Sara Cline in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.