Video: Tornadoes and extreme storms hit the US south

Footage of tornado damage in Alabama in March 2020

For the second Sunday in a row, the Southern US states were in the midst of an outbreak of severe weather over the weekend, including widespread damaging winds, tornadoes, hail and torrential rainfall.

Waves of severe thunderstorms blew through Louisiana to the Atlantic coast of the Carolinas. Accompanying the potentially vigorous storms is the expectation for flash flooding in some areas.

On Sunday evening, tornado watches stretched from Louisiana to southern Mississippi and Alabama. The watches all mentioned the possibility of a couple “intense tornadoes” as well as “very large hail events” up to 2 to 2.5 inches in diameter.

At 7.23 pm US Central time, the National Weather Service (NWS) warned of “a confirmed large and extremely dangerous tornado” 30 miles south-southwest of the 2.25-mile-wide tornado that struck southern Mississippi one week ago. At 7.44 pm, the twister was heading east at 55 mph on a path to pass close to the city of Purvis about 7.50 pm, about 15 miles south of Hattiesburg. The NWS said “this is a particularly dangerous situation” and extended the tornado warning through 8.15 pm for areas just east of Purvis.

According to Doppler radar, the tornado then passed close to southeastern Hattiesburg, near its municipal airport.

The NWS’s Storm Prediction Center wrote in a statement that this tornado was likely at least an EF3 on its 0 to 5 scale that measures intensity, with winds of at least 136 mph.

The tornado warning was extended again through 9 pm US Central time, with the storm expected to pass between the towns of Richton and Beaumont in southeastern Mississippi, and then again through 9.15 pm, mainly over rural areas.

A tornado warning was issued for the same storm that travelled into southwestern Alabama, through 10 pm Central time.

Many of the same areas affected by the tornado in southern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama were also under flash-flood warnings and had water rescues reported in Hattiesburg.

At about 9.15 pm Central time, radar showed widespread heavy storms with torrential rain from southern Mississippi to central Georgia, where flash-flood warnings were in effect.

Earlier Sunday, storms struck the Dallas Fort Worth area with large hail while storms west of Galveston and Houston also produced large hail as well as a tornado. From Texas to South Carolina, the NWS logged more than 120 reports of severe weather, including 75 reports of damaging winds.

The outbreak struck a week after more than 130 tornadoes tore up parts of the South. With a preliminary tally of 69 deaths, 2020 is the nation’s deadliest year for tornadoes since 2012.

The repeated threat of dangerous storms underscores the challenge of living in storm-prone areas during the springtime, particularly at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic. It also demonstrates the importance of having a severe-weather plan in place to know what to do when the time comes.

“I think Alabamians are tired of dealing with COVID-19, and after last Sunday, tired of dealing with severe weather,” James Spann, the chief meteorologist for the ABC affiliate in Birmingham Alabama, wrote in a Facebook post outlining Sunday’s severe weather threat. “We don’t do this to scare anyone, or make them more anxious, but at the same time we have to let you know there is a risk of severe thunderstorms. . . . We will get through the day together.”

Dr Spann and other meteorologists have emphasised the importance of having a way to be notified of any warnings issued. A battery-backup weather radio is ideal while you ensure wireless emergency alerts are activated on your phone and the “do not disturb” mode is disabled.

A level 4 out of 5 “moderate risk” stretched across the NWS Storm Prediction Centre’s severe weather Sunday night. That’s where meteorologists anticipate a “regional outbreak of tornadoes and damaging wind,” the red zone encompassing a large swath of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and western-central Georgia.

Included within the moderate-risk area are more than 5 million people, including the cities of Jackson, Mississippi, Alexandria, Louisiana, Columbus, Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama. The same parts of rural southeastern Mississippi that were hit by an extreme 2.25-mile-wide EF4 tornado last week are again in today’s highest tier of risk.

Surrounding the moderate-risk zone was a blanket of level 3 “enhanced” risk for cities such as Mobile, Alabama, Shreveport, Louisiana, Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.

A level 2 “slight risk” zone stretched from northwestern Louisiana to Birmingham to Atlanta.

Threats: while damaging winds are likely to be the most widespread hazard, the threat of tornadoes also will be noteworthy.

A hail threat also will accompany clusters of storms, especially in Louisiana and Mississippi. A few instances of hail greater than two inches in diameter can be expected there.

This event also features a substantial risk of flash flooding across central Mississippi and especially Alabama and western Georgia. Up to 2.5 inches of rain was expected to fall by the late morning across many of these areas; that could saturate soils and prime the ground for flash flooding if thunderstorms “train” and pass over the same areas during the afternoon and evening. A few areas may wind up with six inches or more of rainfall.

The Washington Post

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