WEATHER NEWS: Central U.S. storm brings tornadoes, flooding and heavy snow


Another in a recent string of powerful winter storms was tracking Tuesday through the central United States and toward the Great Lakes. It was bringing a multipronged punch of heavy snowfall and gusty winds to the Plains and Midwest, plus severe thunderstorms and flooding in the South.

The storm dropped nearly 2 feet of wind-whipped snow on parts of South Dakota and delivered torrential rain and flooding to a large swath of the central United States. A handful of tornadoes were also spun up, with more forecast to come, in addition to the threat of damaging straight-line winds.

This is the same storm system that slammed into California over the weekend with record rainfall in the Bay Area and extremely heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It has since redeveloped to the east of the Continental Divide.

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As of Tuesday afternoon, tornado watches stretched southeast Louisana into northern Georgia, including Birmingham and Atlanta, running until evening. It followed earlier watches to the north and west along a cold front marching eastward across the South.

Several tornadoes were confirmed early Tuesday in Tennessee and Mississippi, based on radar detection of debris lofted into the air. At least two other twisters were confirmed late Monday in Oklahoma and Louisiana, with others suspected in Arkansas. Most of these tornadoes were short-lived and did not affect populated areas, but some damage was reported in Jessieville, Ark., including to a school.

The Weather Service issued multiple warnings for confirmed tornadoes between Montgomery and Birmingham early Tuesday afternoon. “As of 2:45p, we have identified 5 areas of likely tornado damage,” the Weather Service office in Birmingham tweeted. “Counties included: Chilton into Coosa, Autauga into Elmore, Marengo into Hale, and Perry. This event is not over, so tally could change.”

Several dozen reports of damaging straight-line winds and a few large-hail incidents were also logged by the National Weather Service, from northern Louisiana to southern Ohio between Monday and Tuesday afternoon.

The most widespread storm risk on Tuesday was for damaging gusts fueled by intense winds at high altitudes being dragged downward by thunderstorms in a zone from southern Louisiana to eastern Tennessee.

There is an elevated risk of tornadoes, a few of which could be strong, in the zone from eastern Louisiana through southern parts of Mississippi and Alabama. In that region, the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has declared a Level 3 of 5 “enhanced risk” of dangerous storms.

The severe-storm threat is being fueled by unusually warm and moist air ahead of the cold front. About three dozen record highs could be threatened Tuesday, centered on the Ohio Valley but as far west as St. Louis, as far east as D.C. and as far south as Louisiana. As many as 100 record-warm low temperatures could fall in the eastern United States on Wednesday morning.

Accumulating snowfall associated with the storm system, which was spinning near Omaha midday Tuesday, focused from central Nebraska to the Michigan Upper Peninsula and then into Ontario.

“Thinking about heading toward Sioux Falls today? DON’T!” tweeted the Dickinson County Emergency Management office in northwest Iowa bordering southern Minnesota. “Highway 9 is impassible west of Rock Rapids and travel is not advised on I-90 in southwest Minnesota.”

Large portions of Interstate 90, among other thoroughfares, have since been closed in South Dakota from around Sioux Falls and to the west, where as much as 18 inches of snow has been reported.

The area forecast to endure the most disruptive snowfall through early Wednesday runs from northeastern Nebraska and southeastern South Dakota into southwestern Minnesota. Sioux Falls is near the middle of this zone, and Minneapolis is near the northeast edge.

Additional snowfall could reach 12 to 15 inches in the area above, including about 10 inches in the Twin Cities.

Snowfall totals of up to 22 inches had already been reported in southeast South Dakota near Lake Andes as of Tuesday morning. Nebraska has a top report of 15 inches in north-central parts of the state. Rawlins, Wyo., reported 24 inches late Monday. Totals in excess of 4 feet were reported over the weekend: Sundance, Utah, posted 52 inches and Mammoth Mountain, Calif., 54 inches.

Freezing rain that could leave a dangerous glaze on roads and walkways is also a threat across southeastern Minnesota, northern Iowa, and central and northern Wisconsin. Winter weather advisories and ice storm warnings cover this zone.

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At one point early Tuesday, flash-flood warninngs stretched in a line from southern Ohio to the Arkansas-Louisiana border, along and ahead of the cold front trudging eastward. Widespread rain totals of 3 to 5 inches have been reported in these areas.

Training storms, or those that keep passing over the same area, led to particularly heavy rainfall rates in northern Kentucky and southeast Arkansas. Flooding in Kentucky resulted in water rescues, including that of a bus carrying schoolchildren near Paris, in Lexington’s northeastern suburbs.

Much of the same region threatened by severe thunderstorms is also at risk for excessive rainfall and the potential for flooding Tuesday. Much of the south is in Level 2 out of 4 risk for excessive rainfall, while a smaller Level 3 of 4 “moderate risk” is in place for southern Alabama and a sliver of southwest Georgia.

“Intense rates along with potential training are expected to contribute to the threat for heavy amounts,” the Weather Service wrote Tuesday morning.

Forecast for Wednesday and Thursday

From the tornadoes and flooding in the South to snow and ice in the Upper Midwest, the storm’s worst effects were expected Tuesday. By Wednesday, the system will be sweeping toward the East Coast, where it will lose some of its punch.

Some lingering snow is possible on the storm’s trailing side over the Great Lakes.

Additional severe storms may roll through the Southeast on Wednesday, extending from the Florida Panhandle to perhaps southern Virginia, but they should not be as widespread or intense as on Tuesday.

In the Northeast, the storm system is expected to produce mostly rain showers, as it will be too mild for snow or frozen precipitation. The exception will be parts of central and northern Maine that will see freezing rain transition to light snow Wednesday night into Thursday. Portions of Vermont and New Hampshire could see rain switch to a wintry mix around the same time.

Jason Samenow contributed to this report.

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