Storms that spawned tornadoes in Midwest head east, bring severe weather threat to Mississippi, Southeast US

Published 2:09 pm Tuesday, December 13, 2022

A massive storm blowing across the country spawned tornadoes in parts of Oklahoma and Texas, including the Dallas-Fort Worth area, as much of the central United States from the Rocky Mountains to the Midwest braced Tuesday for blizzard-like conditions.

The storm system was expected to move into the Northeast and central Appalachians with snow and freezing rain by late Wednesday, forecasters said. The severe weather threat also continues into Wednesday for Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

The weather is part of the same system that dumped heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada and western U.S. in recent days.

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On Tuesday, an area stretching from Montana into western Nebraska and Colorado was under blizzard warnings, and the National Weather Service said that as much as 2 feet (61 centimeters) of snow was possible in some areas of western South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska. Ice and sleet were expected in the eastern Great Plains.

Meanwhile, damage was reported in the Oklahoma town of Wayne after the weather service warned of a “confirmed tornado” shortly after 5 a.m. Tuesday. There were no deaths or injuries due to the tornado, McClain County Sheriff’s Capt. Bryan Murrell said. But as authorities began assessing its impact Tuesday morning, it was clear there was widespread damage to Wayne, which is about 45 miles (72 kilometers) south of Oklahoma City.

“We’ve got multiple family structures with significant damage … barns, power lines down” in and around the town, Murrell said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Doug Speheger said wind speeds reached 111-135 mph (179-211 kph) and the tornado was rated EF-2. It was likely on the ground for about two to four minutes, according to the weather service.

The line of thunderstorms that moved across North Texas in the early morning hours brought tornadoes, damaging winds, hail and heavy rain, said National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Bradshaw. Authorities on Tuesday morning reported that dozens of homes and businesses were damaged and several people injured.

Bradshaw said there was likely a tornado touchdown in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Grapevine, where two or three businesses were damaged and some homes as well.

Grapevine police spokesperson Amanda McNew said there have been five confirmed injuries related to the storms there and no fatalities.

“So the main thing is that we’ve got everyone in a safe place,” McNew said just after noon. “And so now we’re starting the process of going through the city looking at damage to property, to businesses, homes and then roads to see what needs to be closed, what we can open and how soon we can open them.”

Several schools lost power in the area and two elementary schools released students early because they were still without power at noon.

In North Richland Hills, another Fort Worth suburb near Grapevine, about 20 homes and businesses were damaged in the storm, North Richland Hills police said. Photos sent by the police department showed a home without a roof, a tree that had been split in half and an overturned vehicle in a parking lot.

There were multiple reports of damage to homes and businesses near Decatur, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) northwest of Dallas, the Wise County Office of Emergency Management said. The office of emergency management said one person was injured from flying debris while traveling in their vehicle and the other was injured when their vehicle overturned due to high winds. One person was taken to the hospital and the other was treated at the scene.

Bradshaw said it’s believed to be a tornado that caused the damage south of Decatur.

In parts of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota, the National Weather Service warned that up to about half an inch (2.5 centimeters) of ice could form and winds could gust up to 45 mph (72 kph). Power outages, tree damage, falling branches and hazardous travel conditions all threatened the region.

All of western Nebraska was under a blizzard warning from Tuesday through Thursday, and the National Weather Services said up to 20 inches (51 centimeters) of snow was expected in the northwest. Winds of more than 50 mph (80 kph) 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 traveling right now,” said Justin McCallum, a manager at the Flying J truck stop at Ogallala, Nebraska. He said he got to work before the roads were closed, but likely won’t be able to get back home Tuesday. “I can see to the first poles outside the doors, but I can’t see the rest of the lot right outside. I’ll probably just get a motel room here tonight.”

A 260-mile (418-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 90 across western South Dakota 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 middle school in Sioux Falls lost power Tuesday morning and sent students home early. Power outages affecting about 1,700 customers in the eastern part of the state were reported by utility providers Tuesday.

In southern Minnesota, winds gusting up to 50 mph (80 kph) had reduced visibility and in the Twin Cities metro area, sleet and gravel mixed with rain on the roads.
National Weather Service meteorologist Melissa Dye in the Twin Cities said this is a “long duration event” with snow, ice and rain expected to last at least 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.

In Utah, search and rescue crews on Tuesday located the body of a skier who had gone missing at Solitude Mountain Resort a day earlier as snow continued to blanket Utah and the state’s ski resorts throughout the Wasatch Range.

Salt Lake County law enforcement told KSL-TV the skier, a 37-year-old man, had been found dead Tuesday morning. The skier, who they did not name, was last seen on a chairlift in the afternoon and reported missing around 7 p.m.