JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Residents of several towns in Louisiana and Mississippi took cover as tornado sirens sounded late Tuesday, and forecasters warned of the threat of powerful tornadoes that can follow long distances on the ground when a severe weather outbreak erupts. Deep South.
There were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries as multiple tornado warnings were issued Tuesday afternoon as severe thunderstorms rolled through eastern Texas into Georgia and north into Indiana. National Weather Service approved Hurricanes hit the ground in Mississippi on Tuesday evening, and Alabama was on the forecast path of storms during the night.
More than 25 million people were at risk as the extensive storm system. The National Storm Prediction Center said in the storm outlook, cities affected may include New Orleans; Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee; and Birmingham, Alabama.
The NWS received reports of people stranded at a grocery store in Caledonia, Mississippi, just after 6 p.m. Cindy Lawrence, Director of the Lowndes County Emergency Management Agency, told WTVA-TV that people inside the grocery store got out safely. Lawrence also said that a family who was trapped in a house about a mile from the store fled.
Additional reports of property damage near Columbus have been received by the NWS, according to Lance Perrilloux, an forecaster with the agency.
Tennis ball-sized heavy rain and hail were also possible, as forecasters said the weather outbreak was expected to continue into Wednesday.
In western Alabama, a suspected tornado damaged multiple homes in Hale County, according to storm damage reports from the National Weather Service. About 29,000 customers were left without power in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Craig Ceecee, a meteorologist at Mississippi State University, peered into the “incredibly black” sky from the door of a hurricane shelter in Starkville. He estimated that about 100 people had already arrived as a lightning storm was raging outside.
The Oktibbeha County Emergency Management agency operates the shelter about three miles (5 kilometers) from the university campus. Ceecee said the dome-shaped multipurpose facility can withstand winds of 250 mph (400 kph).
Before Tuesday’s storm, Ceecee built a database of Mississippi hurricane shelters. He said there were a few towns that didn’t exist.
“I had to go through the events without (Shelters) and trust 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 took cover during a hurricane warning. “It was hitting the window and you could tell it had nice sized balls,” Mayor Ann Polk said after the storm had passed.
As with Tuesday’s forecast, it’s rare for federal forecasters to warn of major hurricanes that have the potential to cause damage over long distances. The NWS said the hurricane seizures, which covered most of Louisiana and Mississippi, were announced because of a “particularly dangerous situation.”
“Supercells are expected to develop this afternoon and head northeast through most of northeast Louisiana and central Mississippi,” the weather service said. “The parameters seem appropriate for strong and prolonged hurricanes this afternoon and early evening.”
Sarah Sickles, an NWS forecaster in the state capitol, Jackson, said the storm’s most intense wave is projected to move in Mississippi between 5pm and 8pm.
“Many rounds of severe thunderstorms will be possible this afternoon in the lower Mississippi Valley region and parts of the South Midwest, some of which are capable of sustained hurricanes with EF3+ damage potential,” said the Norman, Oklahoma-based Storm Prediction Center. .
Hurricanes rated EF3 on the advanced Fujita hurricane scale can produce gusts of up to 266 kph (165 mph) per hour.
All remaining classes at Mississippi State University’s main campus in Starkville switched to distance learning on Tuesday due to the weather. The University of Louisiana-Monroe vs Mississippi State women’s basketball game was to be played on campus, but the court was closed to spectators. Alcorn State University and the University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg were closing early.
Some of Mississippi’s public schools also closed early.
The National Weather Service has issued flash flooding alerts for parts of southeastern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama, where 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 centimeters) of rain can lead to flash flooding.
Meanwhile, heavy snowfall was disrupting traffic in parts of the Upper Midwest.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport tweeted Tuesday afternoon that its runways were closed due to rapid snowfall rates and reduced visibility. Air traffic websites state that some inbound planes are located in St. Cloud showed returning or heading to other airports such as Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota. The National Weather Service reported about 4 inches (10) of snow on the ground at the airport at noon.
Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Michael Goldberg in Jackson, Mississippi; Sara Cline in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Steve Karnowski of Minneapolis contributed to this report.