JACKSON, Mississippi. Residents of several Louisiana and Mississippi cities took cover as tornado sirens sounded Tuesday night, and forecasters warned of the threat of strong tornadoes capable of tracking long distances on the ground as a bout of severe weather erupted. in the deep south.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or serious damage. Tornado warnings were issued Tuesday afternoon and continued through the night as strong thunderstorms stretched from eastern Texas to Georgia and north into Indiana.
The National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes touched down in Mississippi Tuesday night and that Alabama was in the forecast path of the storms during the overnight hours.
More than 25 million people were at risk from the vast storm system. The National Storm Prediction Center said in its storm forecast 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. WTVA-TV of Tupelo, people inside the grocery store made it out to safety. Lawrence also said a family trapped in a house a mile from the store escaped.
The Weather Service has received additional reports of property damage near Columbus, according to Lance Perrilloux, a meteorologist for the agency.
Heavy rain and hail the size of tennis balls were also possible, as forecasters said the weather outbreak was expected to continue through Wednesday.
Craig Ceecee, a Mississippi State University meteorologist, gazed at the “incredibly black” skies through the door of a Starkville tornado shelter. He estimated that about 100 people had already arrived because a thunderstorm was lingering outside.
The Oktibbeha County Emergency Management agency is operating the shelter, about three miles from the university campus. Ceecee said the dome-shaped multi-use facility is capable of withstanding 250 mph winds.
Before Tuesday’s storm, Ceecee built a database of Mississippi tornado shelters. She said that there are several towns without any.
“I had to go through events without (shelters), and believe me, they were terrifying,” Ceecee said.
In the small town of Tchula, Mississippi, hail smashed through the windows of City Hall as the mayor and other residents took cover during a tornado warning. “It was banging against the window, and you could tell they were good-sized balls,” Mayor Ann Polk said after the storm passed.
It is rare for federal forecasters to warn of large tornadoes with the potential to cause damage over long distances, 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 and track northeast across much of northeast Louisiana and central Mississippi,” the weather service said. “The parameters appear favorable for strong, long-track tornadoes this afternoon and early evening.”
The storm’s strongest wave was projected to pass over Mississippi between 5 and 8 p.m., said Sarah Sickles, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Jackson, the state capital.
“Multiple rounds of severe thunderstorms, some capable of long-track tornadoes with EF3+ damage potential, will be possible this afternoon through tonight in parts of the lower Mississippi Valley region and the MidSouth,” the Prediction Center said. of Storms based in Norman, Oklahoma. .
Tornadoes rated EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Tornado Scale can produce wind gusts of up to 165 mph.
All remaining classes at Mississippi State University’s main campus in Starkville switched to remote instruction Tuesday due to weather. A Mississippi State vs. University of Louisiana-Monroe women’s basketball game was to be played on campus, but the venue was closed to spectators. Alcorn State University and the University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg were closing early.
Some of Mississippi’s public school systems also closed early.
Flood watches have been issued for parts of southeastern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama, where 3 to 5 inches of rain could trigger flash flooding, the National Weather Service said.
Meanwhile, heavy snowfall was clogging traffic in some parts of the Upper Midwest.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport tweeted Tuesday afternoon that its runways were closed due to high snowfall rates 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 of snow on the airport ground at noon.