Massive U.S. storm brings tornadoes to South, leaves behind injuries, damaged homes
Area stretching from Montana into western Nebraska and Colorado under blizzard warnings
A massive storm blowing across the United States spawned tornadoes that wrecked homes and injured a handful of people in parts of Oklahoma and Texas, including the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as much of the central U.S. from the Rocky Mountains to the Midwest braced Tuesday for blizzard-like conditions.
An area stretching from Montana into western Nebraska and Colorado was under blizzard warnings, and the National Weather Service (NWS) said as much as 61 centimetres of snow was possible in some areas of western South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska. Ice and sleet were expected in the eastern Great Plains.
Forecasters expect the storm system to hobble the upper Midwest with ice, rain and snow for days, as well as move into the Northeast and central Appalachians. Residents from West Virginia to Vermont were told to watch out for a possible significant mix of snow, ice and sleet, and the NWS issued a winter storm watch from Wednesday night through Friday afternoon, depending on the timing of the storm.
The severe weather threat also continues into Wednesday for Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
In the South, a line of thunderstorms brought tornadoes, damaging winds, hail and heavy rain across north Texas and Oklahoma in the early morning hours, said NWS meteorologist Tom Bradshaw.
Authorities on Tuesday reported dozens of damaged homes and businesses and several people injured in the suburbs and counties stretching north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Texas airport issues 'shelter in place'
The weather service examined about a dozen different areas across north Texas to determine if Tuesday's damage was caused by high winds or tornadoes.
A tornado warning prompted the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to issue a "shelter in place" order Tuesday morning, asking passengers to move away from windows, the airport announced via Twitter.
More than 1,000 flights into and out of area airports were delayed, and over 100 were cancelled, according to the tracking service FlightAware.
In the Fort Worth suburbs, about 20 local homes and businesses were damaged, according to the North Richland Hills police department.
In nearby Grapevine, police spokesperson Amanda McNew reported five confirmed injuries.
"The main thing is that we've got everyone in a safe place," McNew said just after noon. "We're starting the process of going through the city looking at damage to property, to businesses, homes and then roads."
A possible tornado blew the roof off the city's service centre — a municipal facility — and left pieces of the roof hanging from power lines, said Trent Kelley, deputy director of Grapevine Parks and Recreation. Tuesday was also trash day, so the storm picked up and scattered garbage all over, he said.
Photos sent by the city showed downed power lines on rain-soaked streets, as well as toppled trees, damaged buildings and a semitrailer that appeared to have been tossed around a parking lot.
Tornado in Oklahoma
Meanwhile, a tornado damaged the Oklahoma town of Wayne shortly after 5 a.m. local time Tuesday. There was widespread damage but no deaths or injuries, McClain County Sheriff's Capt. Bryan Murrell said.
"We've got multiple family structures with significant damage … barns, power lines down," Murrell said. The town is about 72 kilometres south of Oklahoma City.
NWS meteorologist Doug Speheger said wind speeds reached 179-211 km/h and the tornado was rated EF-2. It was likely on the ground for about two to four minutes, according to the weather service.
In parts of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota, the National Weather Service warned that up to about 2.5 centimetres of ice could form and winds could gust up to 72 km/h. Power outages, tree damage, falling branches and hazardous travel conditions threatened the region.
All of western Nebraska was under a blizzard warning from Tuesday through Thursday, and the National Weather Service said up to 51 centimetres of snow was expected in the northwest. Winds of more than 80 km/h at times will make it impossible to see outdoors, officials said.
The Nebraska Department of Transportation closed stretches of Interstate 80 and Interstate 76 as heavy snow and high winds made travel dangerous. The Nebraska State Patrol, which was called to deal with several crashes and jackknifed semitrailers overnight, urged people to stay off the roads.
"There's essentially no one travelling right now," said Justin McCallum, a manager at the Flying J truck stop at Ogallala, Neb.
Livestock under threat
In Colorado, all roads were closed in the northeast quadrant of the state. The severe weather in the ranching region could also threaten livestock. Extreme winds can push livestock through fences as they follow the gale's direction, said Jim Santomaso, a northeast representative for the Colorado Cattlemen's Association.
"If this keeps up," said Santomaso, "cattle could drift miles."
In western South Dakota, a 418-kilometre stretch of Interstate 90 was closed Tuesday morning due to "freezing rain, heavy snow, and high winds," the state's Department of Transportation said. Interstate 29 was also expected to close and secondary highways will likely become "impassable," the department said.
Xcel Energy, one of the region's largest electric providers, had boosted staff in anticipation of power outages.
A blizzard warning has been issued on Minnesota's north shore, as some areas are expecting up to 60 centimetres of snow and wind gusts up to 64 km/h. And in the south of the state, winds gusting up to 80 km/h had reduced visibility.
NWS meteorologist Melissa Dye in the Twin Cities said this is a "long duration event" with snow, ice and rain through Friday night. Minnesota was expecting a lull Wednesday, followed by a second round of snow.
Wet roadways are just as dangerous when temperatures hover around freezing, Dye said.
The same weather system dumped heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada and western U.S. in recent days.