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Tornado outbreak continues across US

Tornado-bearing storms in the lower Mississippi valley Tuesday night unleashed hail, high winds and at least one possible twister that lifted a tractor-trailer, the National Weather Service said.

Meteorologists from Texas to Kentucky, a day after a similar round of storms, were jammed Wednedady morning NZT with reports of tornado touchdowns from storm spotters and citizens.

Matt Bishop with the weather service’s Fort Worth office, said the staff had heard of multiple reports of damage in northeastern Texas, although he was unaware of any injuries.

“We’re in the middle of a severe weather outbreak,” he said at 7:45 p.m. local time.

The Little Rock, Arkansas, office received reports of hail, downed tree limbs and the incident involving the tractor trailer in Coy, on U.S. 165, said forecaster Brian Smith.

A tornado warning was issued for Crittenden County, Arkansas, just west of the border with Tennessee, near Memphis. Warnings were issued throughout the Memphis region, said forecaster Marlene Mickelson. There were no reports of tornadoes on the ground.

Forecasters were tracking a very large rain-wrapped tornado near West Memphis, Arkansas and Tennessee.

The Shreveport, Louisiana, office issued about 15 tornado warnings, and had received many reports of funnel clouds and tornado touchdowns, meteorologist intern Matt Hemingway said.

Meteorologists at the Tulsa, Oklahoma, office tracked a string of storms and possible tornado activity near Fort Smith, Arkansas, said forecaster Chuck Hodges. There were reports of hail and winds reaching 130km/h near Fort Smith.

Forecasters issued a tornado watch for northeastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, eastern Arkansas, southeastern Illinois, western Kentucky, southeast Missouri, northwest Mississippi, western Tennessee, eastern Illinois, much of Indiana, northwestern Ohio and much of Michigan until 10 p.m.

This is a “particularly dangerous situation,” the Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said of the outlook for tornadoes.

Destructive tornadoes, softball-size hail, wind gusts to 115km/h and dangerous lightning are possible in and near this watch area.

The bad weather extended to the east. A tornado warning was issued Tuesday afternoon in Rome, New York.

Typically, only a handful of days per year reach high-risk criteria, said CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen.

“Very large hail and damaging winds” can also be expected, forecasters said.

On Wednesday, portions of Kentucky and Tennessee will be at moderate risk of severe thunderstorms, along with northeast and east-central Mississippi, the northern half of Alabama and northwest Georgia, the Storm Prediction Center said. An area between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains is “likely to see a widespread/potentially dangerous severe weather event,” forecasters said.

The stage may be set for a potential record-breaking month for tornadoes nationwide, according to the Storm Prediction Center. The long-term average for confirmed tornadoes in April is 116. The previous record for April is 267 confirmed tornadoes in 1974, which includes the historic “superoutbreak” of April 3 and 4 that year. According to the Storm Prediction Center, the likely total of confirmed tornadoes through April 24 is between 200 and 275.

Arkansas may be under the gun for the second time this week. More than 60,000 people were without power Tuesday morning after a rash of severe storms tore through the state Monday, leaving 10 dead and destroying more than a dozen homes.

According to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, four fatalities were storm-related and six resulted from flooding.

The weather also spawned a suspected tornado that struck an Air Force base, military officials said, and prompted the Arkansas governor to declare a state of emergency.

In Faulkner County, at least four people died in the severe thunderstorms, according to Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management spokesman Stephen Hawk.

Two people died in Madison County, one in Washington County, two in Benton County and one in Perry County.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe toured the Faulkner County town of Vilonia on Tuesday, telling CNN affiliate KATV, “These folks have suffered some terrible losses.”

The governor said he was surprised there were no more fatalities, given the extent of the damage. The ground is so saturated that instead of snapping trees, high winds pulled them out of the ground, he said.

And “it may not be over,” he said. “… I think Arkansans need to be very cautious.”

House-to-house searches were being conducted in Vilonia, Hawk said. About 15 houses are destroyed, he said, and “within the three-mile path of the storm, everything was affected. There are untold numbers of affected houses … The only grocery store in town, the roof was pretty much torn off.”

On Monday night, Madison County Sheriff Phillip Morgan said the bodies of an elderly man and woman were found after floodwaters swept away the couple’s car on Highway 23 south of Huntsville, in northwest Arkansas. The deaths are attributed to rising flood waters along War Eagle Creek.

Also in northwest Arkansas, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the death of 38-year-old Consuelo Santillano, who authorities say was swept away by rapidly moving water across Highway 265 South.

And a possible tornado struck Little Rock Air Force Base in central Arkansas, damaging at least 16 homes and knocking out power to some parts of the base, military officials said.

Bob Oldham, a spokesman for the base, reported two minor injuries and some damage to aircraft at the base. The number of aircraft and the extent of damage were not immediately clear, Oldham said early Tuesday.

Beebe told CNN later in the day that three C-130s were damaged to the point that, according to preliminary reports, they are inoperable “without significant repairs.”

The state also saw seven deaths in an earlier round of severe weather this month.

Other parts of the state were flooded after several days of unceasing rain.

Steve Wilkes of Fayetteville said his house was spared damage from a nearby flooded creek, but some of his friends are dealing with flooded basements.

“I’ve lived here for more than 20 years. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” Wilkes said. “I saw water 2 to 3 feet deep across roadways that have never flooded.”

In various parts of the state, the storms flipped over cars, damaged homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands, emergency management officials said. Some areas reported gusts of up to 70 mph.

Entergy Arkansas Inc., which provides electricity to 687,000 customers in 63 counties, reported 60,500 customers were without power as of about 9:45 a.m. (10:45 a.m. ET) Tuesday, down from a high of about 88,000.

Beebe declared a state of emergency Monday night “in response to the severe storms and flooding that have impacted Arkansas and are expected to continue in the coming days,” according to a statement on the governor’s website.

The declaration is retroactive to include storms that began on April 19, according to the statement.

– CNN’s Dave Alsup, Scott Thompson, Phil Gast, Sean Morris, Anna Rhett Miller, John Branch and Holly Yan contributed to this report.



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