Storms Head North After Killing Six Over Christmas

Tuesday, 25 Dec 2012 07:32 PM

 

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An enormous storm system that dumped snow and sleet on the nation's midsection and unleashed damaging tornadoes around the Deep South has begun punching its way toward the Northeast, slowing holiday travel.

Post-Christmas travelers braced for a second day of flight delays and cancellations, a day after rare winter twisters damaged numerous homes in Louisiana and Alabama. The vast storm system stretching across numerous states has been blamed for six deaths and several injuries though no one was killed outright in the tornadoes. The storms also left more than 100,000 without power for a time, darkening Christmas celebrations.

Drenching rains and blustery winds moved early Wednesday across Georgia, a slew of tornado watches still in effect. The severe weather system was set to lash the Carolinas later in the day before taking aim next at the heavily populated Northeast corridor.

Farther north on a line from Little Rock, Ark., to Cleveland, blizzard conditions were predicted before the snow — up to one foot in some places — made its way into the Northeast.

Rick Cauley's family was hosting relatives for Christmas in Mobile, Ala. when the tornado sirens went off. Not taking any chances, he and his wife, Ashley, hustled everyone down the block to take shelter at the athletic field house nearby at Murphy High School.

It turns out, that wasn't the place to head.

"As luck would have it, that's where the tornado hit," Cauley said. "The pressure dropped and the ears started popping and it got crazy for a second." They were all fine, though the school was damaged, as were a church and several homes, but officials say no one was seriously injured.

Camera footage captured the approach of the large, frightening funnel cloud.

Watch the Mobile tornado. Story continues below.



Mobile was the largest city hit by the rare winter twisters. Along with brutal, straight-line winds, the storms knocked down countless trees, blew the roofs off homes and left many Christmas celebrations in the dark. Torrential rains drenched the region, causing flash floods.

More than 500 flights nationwide were canceled by Tuesday evening, according to the flight tracker FlightAware.com. More than half were canceled into and out of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport that got a few inches of snow.

Holiday travelers in the nation's much colder midsection battled treacherous driving conditions from freezing rain and blizzard conditions from the same fast-moving storms.
 
In Arkansas, highway department officials said the state was fortunate the snowstorm hit on Christmas Day when many travelers already were at their destinations.

Two passengers in a car on a sleet-slickened Arkansas highway died Wednesday when the vehicle crossed the center line and struck an SUV head-on.

In Oklahoma, the Highway Patrol said a 76-year-old Wisconsin woman died Tuesday. She was a passenger in a car that was hit head-on when a pickup truck crossed into oncoming traffic on Interstate 44.

The Highway Patrol had earlier reported that a 28-year-old woman was killed in a crash on a snowy highway near Fairview, Okla.

The storm's winds were also blamed Tuesday for toppling a tree onto a pickup truck in Texas, killing the driver, and another tree onto a house in Louisiana, killing a man there.

Trees fell on homes and across roadways in several communities in southern Mississippi and Louisiana. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency, saying eight counties reported storm damage and injuries.

It included McNeill, where a likely tornado damaged a dozen homes and sent eight people to the hospital, none with life-threatening injuries, said Pearl River County emergency management agency director Danny Manley.

The snowstorm that caused numerous accidents pushed out of Oklahoma late Tuesday, carrying with it blizzard warnings for parts of northeast Arkansas, where 10 inches of snow was forecast. Freezing rain clung to trees and utility lines in Arkansas and winds gusts up to 30 mph whipped them around, causing about 71,000 customers to lose electricity.

Christmas lights also were knocked out with more than 100,000 customers without power for at least a time in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

Blizzard conditions were possible for parts of Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky up to Cleveland with predictions of several inches to one foot of snow. By the end of the week, that snow was expected to move into the Northeast with again up to one foot predicted

Jason Gerth said the Mobile tornado passed by in a few moments and from his porch he saw about a half-dozen green flashes in the distance as transformers blew. His home was spared.

"It missed us by 100 feet and we have no damage," Gerth said.

In Louisiana, quarter-sized hail was reported early Tuesday in the western part of the state and a WDSU viewer sent a photo to the TV station of what appeared to be a waterspout around the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in New Orleans. There were no reports of crashes or damage.

Some mountainous areas of Arkansas' Ozark Mountains could get up to 10 inches of snow, which would make travel "very hazardous or impossible" in the northern tier of the state from near whiteout conditions, the weather service said.

The holiday may conjure visions of snow and ice, but twisters this time of year are not unheard of. Ten storm systems in the last 50 years have spawned at least one Christmastime tornado with winds of 113 mph or more in the South, said Chris Vaccaro, a National Weather Service spokesman in Washington, via email.

The most lethal were the storms of Dec. 24-26, 1982, when 29 tornadoes in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi killed three people and injured 32.

In Mobile, a large section of the roof on the Trinity Episcopal Church is missing and the front wall of the parish wall is gone, said Scott Rye, a senior warden at the church in the Midtown section of the city.

On Christmas Eve, the church with about 500 members was crowded for services.

"Thank God this didn't happen last night," Rye said.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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