Saturday, January 21, 2017

Deadly Tornadoes, Severe Weather Blasting South, To Become Northeast Storm

UPDATE: 1:30 p.m.

Severe tornado damage in Hattiesburg, Mississippi today.
Photo by Ryan Moore/WDAM via Twitter.
This morning's round of tornadoes have killed at least four people, injured many others and caused widespread destruction in the South.

So far, most of the destruction has been in and around the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Other possible tornadoes were reported in Alabama and Georgia. NOAA's Severe Storm Center has reports of at least nine tornadoes so far.

This morning's squall line is heading off to the east and weakening, though there still might be a few brief tornados and damaging winds in eastern Georgia this afternoon.

However, the potential is high for new rounds of tornadoes and severe weather that could be at least as bad as this morning's carnage. .

The sun is out in much of the area hit by the first round of storms from Louisiana and Arkansas into western Alabama. The heating created by the sun, combined with a strong jet stream and a strong disturbance that will make winds veer with height, will trigger another batch of tornadic and severe storms later today in Arkansas and Louisiana.

Those storms will march eastward overnight. There is a moderate risk of severe storms in parts of the South, which is fourth highest among five levels of concern. Such a high risk is rare in the United States in January. (Though somewhat more common from March into the summer, when severe storms tend to be more likely.)

The Hattiesburg tornado came through at 3:45 a.m., when it was dark and people were sleeping. People didn't hear warnings, and nobody could see the tornado coming.

For those reasons, tornadoes tend to be more dangerous at night.

A bright flash of lightning illuminates what
appears to be severe tornado damage in Hattiesburg,
Mississippi before dawn this morning. Photo by Ryan
Unfortunately, timing is bad with the next round of deadly storms. There is a definitely lull in the activity, with not many storms during the remaining daylight hours today.

However, activity will pick up dramatically again after dark, so everyone from Arkansas to northern Florida better be on their toes overnight.

People in this area should have one of those weather radios in their bedroom that blare loud and obnoxiously when there's a severe storm or tornado warning.

That would give time for people to go to basements or windowless rooms and closets on the ground floors of houses, where it is safer.

Stay tuned for updates.


As expected, severe weather and tornadoes were breaking out across the South early this morning, as the first in a series of severe storm clusters moved through that region before dawn today.

The most ominous warning so far were warnings before dawn of a "large and extremely dangerous tornado" reported in southwestern Alabama heading rapidly toward the northeast.

This tornadic storm had gone through the Hattiesburg and Petal, Mississippi areas earlier, and there are initial reports of significant damage, plus dangerous flash flooding in that area.

There are reports of dorms badly damaged by a possible tornado with some minor injuries among students at William Cary University in Hattiesburg.

On Twitter, Ryan Moore of WDAM-TV was reporting widespread damage in Hattiesburg with the sounds of people calling for help within the rubble and darkness. Damage and gas leaks extended into the city's downtown, he said.

Ohio Storm Chasers released a video this morning in which you can barely make out a large tornado in Hattiesburg among the power flashes and hear the roar in the darkness of what must have been an immense twister.

Obviously, as I write this, I have few details on that particular tornado situation,  but we might hear more later an I'll do an update as needed.

The big batch of storms that stretched from southern Louisiana to Alabama early this morning will keep moving east, taking its risk of damaging storms and tornadoes with it into northern Florida tonight.

Then, NOAA' Storm Prediction Center thinks a second batch of nasty storms will crank up aroud Arkansas and Louisiana later today and head east toward Mississippi and Alabama once again this evening, with another threat of tornadoes and giant hail and dangerous straight line winds.

A third round of severe storms might get going late tonight and Sunday toward Georgia and Florida.

It's a bit unusual to get several rounds of severe weather in one outbreak over two or three days like this during January, but there you go. (There's been bouts of severe weather and tornadoes in the Gulf Coast states since Thursday.)


The storm system causing all the severe weather in the South will consolidate into a strong coastal storm that will move up along the Eastern Seaboard  into New England by Tuesday.

Normally, this time of year, such a strong storm moving along the New England coast would have skiers and riders rejoicing at the prospect of a big dump of snow up here in Vermont and the rest of the North Country.

However - and there's always a however isn't there - there's an odd lack of cold air to supply the snow around here. That's very unusual for mid to late January. There's almost always a decent cold air supply now, normally the coldest part of winter.

Instead, interior New England, including Vermont, is in for another mess of sleet, wet snow, freezing rain and rain Monday night and Tuesday. Some of the ski areas might manage a few inches of "wet cement" accumulation out of this, so it might not be a complete loss.

Winds could be a problem with this storm, too, especially along coastal New England and in some mountainous terrain, like the west slopes of the Green Mountains.

High wind watches are already up for Cape Cod and the islands and southern Connecticut for Monday

We'll have more details as this storm gets closer.

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