Tornado threat ‘particularly dangerous’ in southern states as watch is extended
By Judson Jones and Amanda Holpuch
Parts of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi were under a tornado watch until Wednesday night in what the National Weather Service described as a “particularly dangerous situation” as a series of storms that killed two people and injured dozens more the day before moved southeast.
The body of a woman was found early Wednesday after a tornado destroyed her home in Keithville, Louisiana, according to a statement from the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office. Her young son was also killed. Two other people in Keithville, in northwestern Louisiana, were injured and taken to the hospital, but the extent of their injuries was unknown, the Sheriff’s Office said.
The police in New Iberia, Louisiana, said in a recorded message on Facebook that at least two tornadoes had touched down in the area Wednesday with “significant damage” to the residential subdivision of Southport Boulevard and a “significant amount of damage” to Iberia Medical Center, the local hospital.
“Rescue efforts are underway,” Capt. Leland Laseter said. “We do have several units from several agencies on scene they are rescuing people who are trapped inside of their houses. There are power lines down and live in the area.”
Sgt. Daesha Hughes said police believed that all residents had been safely evacuated; there was one known injury but no fatalities, she said.
Across Texas and Oklahoma, more than two dozen people were injured in the storms Tuesday, including at least seven people who were hospitalized. One of the tornadoes hit near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where passengers were briefly urged to shelter in place as more than 1,000 flights were delayed.
The storms were part of a larger weather system that has brought significant, widespread hazards across more than a dozen states in the central United States. Parts of the Plains and Upper Midwest saw heavy snow, sleet and ice, and blizzard conditions affected multiple states.
The weather service in Louisiana on Wednesday warned residents in parts of the state, close to the Mississippi border, about the threat of severe thunderstorms, including tornadoes and flash flooding. Several regions in Louisiana were also under tornado warnings.
Nearly 3 million people, including residents of New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, are within a 4 of 5 risk level, meaning widespread severe storms are likely for those areas Wednesday afternoon and evening.
“Tornadoes, including the possibility of strong and long-track tornadoes, are the primary concern today,” forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center wrote in their midday update about the region.
On Tuesday, at least 20 people were injured, some critically, as a tornado tore through Union Parish, Louisiana, about 100 miles east of Shreveport, local officials said. The storm leveled part of a large apartment complex and several mobile homes.
Farther west, another tornado damaged a number of homes near Four Forks, Louisiana, not far from the Texas border, local officials said.
In Decatur, Texas, a third tornado, which the weather service described as “large and extremely dangerous,” injured two people Tuesday. One person was injured by flying debris and treated at the scene, and another person was taken to a hospital after high winds overturned a semitrailer truck, according to a statement from the emergency management office in Wise County. There were multiple reports of damage to homes and businesses.
Also Tuesday morning, a fourth tornado struck Wayne, Oklahoma, and traveled for at least three miles with winds reaching 120 to 125 mph , according to preliminary information from the weather service.
Multiple homes and barns were damaged, and power poles and trees were downed, according to the McClain County Sheriff’s Office, which said there were no reports of injuries or deaths.
In Texas, five people were hospitalized after injuries from the storm, though none of their injuries were life-threatening, according to a Facebook post from the police in Grapevine. Damage from the storm caused some businesses to close Tuesday and forced some elementary schools in the area to close early.
Krystal Foreman, 38, said Tuesday that she heard tornado sirens after she arrived at work in Arlington, a city east of Fort Worth. Security told employees to find shelter and that the tornado was maybe two to three minutes away from them.
“People were in the stairwell, in the bathroom and a lot of us stayed in a windowless conference room,” said Foreman, a receptionist at an insurance company.
Scientists have not yet determined a link between climate change and the frequency or strength of tornadoes. Tornadoes are relatively short-lived weather events, so there is limited historical data on their prevalence in the past. Scientists need at least 40 years of weather data before they are able to draw a causal link.
Researchers, however, say that tornadoes in recent years seem to be occurring in greater “clusters,” and that the area of the country known as Tornado Alley, a region where most tornadoes occur, appears to be shifting eastward.
The timing of tornado seasons is also becoming more unpredictable, researchers say, with more early and late starts compared with decades ago.