Deadly severe weather outbreak slices across the South

The Washington Post

The bodies of two people were found Saturday near their demolished trailer home in Bossier Parish, La., following Friday night storms that brought severe weather to northwestern Louisiana. (Bill Davis/Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office/AP)
  • At least seven people have been killed in severe thunderstorms and a few tornadoes that are migrating across the South.
  • More than 247,000 customers between Texas and Kentucky were without power on Saturday afternoon.
  • Ice storm warnings are in effect for parts of Michigan to the north of Detroit, as well as Upstate New York and Down East Maine.
  • Temperatures have been running as much as 20 to 30 degrees or more above normal in most locations east of the Mississippi River, creating dozens of new record highs.

Parts of the South are bracing for another day of violent thunderstorms as residents from the Plains to the Canadian border face a sudden wintry blast unloading snow and ice.

Thunderstorms with damaging winds continue to spread east into Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia on Saturday, where tornadoes remain a threat. The powerhouse storm system has already been blamed for seven deaths: three in northwestern Louisiana, three in Alabama and one in eastern Texas.

Ice still to fall may cause significant damage from parts of eastern Michigan to northern New York through Sunday, where an inch-thick glaze is expected.

If severe storms and snow aren’t enough, there’s been a January heat wave out in front of the powerful low-pressure system charging toward the Northeast.

Storm system spinning over the central United States. (College of Dupage)

Severe weather

A significant severe weather episode got underway Friday across parts of the Southern Plains in Texas and Oklahoma, then spread east and northeast. Several tornado warnings were issued in the Dallas area, and severe thunderstorm warnings have blanketed most of the region.

At least a handful of tornadoes have been confirmed so far, with widespread wind damage reports from East Texas into the Mid-South and more sporadic reports surrounding those areas. Some winds of at least 80 mph were clocked in both Texas and Mississippi.

On Saturday, a large squall line with damaging wind and embedded tornadoes was marching east across parts of the South. The most concentrated risk for the day focuses on Alabama, but severe weather is possible from the northern Gulf Coast into parts of the Ohio Valley and Carolinas. Thunder could even rumble into the Mid-Atlantic late Saturday night into Sunday morning.

Today’s severe weather outlook from the Storm Prediction Center. (National Weather Service)

The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has declared an “enhanced risk” of severe storm — level three of five — for parts of that region, stating “a couple strong tornadoes are possible” in addition to the ongoing damage threat from straight-line winds. As of midday Saturday, tornado watches lined up from the northern Gulf of Mexico to Tennessee, with a severe thunderstorm watch to the north of that.

This storm line already has a history of causing big problems.

At least three people were killed by severe weather in Louisiana on Friday as the complex plowed east. Two people died when their mobile home was demolished, and another was killed when a tree fell on his home.

Another three people were killed on the western edge of Alabama in Pickens County after a tornado touched down there. In Nacogdoches County in East Texas, a 44-year-old man was killed when a tree fell on his home.

More than 247,000 customers between Texas and Kentucky were experiencing a power outage on Saturday afternoon, according to, which aggregates information from hundreds of electric utilities.

With roughly 300 total reports of severe weather (damaging winds, hail or tornadoes) thus far, it is the largest severe weather event of 2020 to date, and the most significant since an outbreak in December across much the same region.

While only a handful of tornadoes have been confirmed so far, the numbers are expected to grow as the National Weather Service conducts surveys of damage in the days ahead.

The cold side

On the back side of low pressure riding northeastward through the Mississippi Valley and into the Great Lakes region, wintry weather is in the forecast from Texas to the Canadian border Saturday into Sunday.

Ice storm details from the Weather Prediction Center. (National Weather Service)

In addition to a swath of winter storm warnings for snow and mixed precipitation from the Southern Plains through the Great Lakes and into the northern tier of the Northeast, a potentially dangerous ice storm is targeting some areas.

Ice storm warnings are in effect for parts of Michigan to the north of Detroit, as well as Upstate New York and Down East Maine. Some places in northern New York are expected to receive as much as one inch of ice, which is likely to bring down many trees and severely damage the power grid.

A flood warning is in effect along Lake Michigan in the Chicago area. Strong winds are expected to create waves that occasionally reach 23 feet.

In a fit of weather whiplash, folks in North Texas were blasted by severe thunderstorms Friday night, followed by accumulating snow Saturday morning in places like Denton in the north of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. With reports of up to 2 or 3 inches, it’s a notable snowfall for that region.

Another swath of snow accumulation with the low pressure runs from Kansas to Wisconsin. It will continue to fill in to the northeast with time. An additional 6 to 12 inches is anticipated for parts of Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as northern Maine through Sunday.

Record warmth in the East

Out ahead of the storm, abundant warmth is draped across eastern parts of the country.

Temperatures have been running as much as 20 to 30 degrees or more above normal across a huge area, including a majority of locations east of the Mississippi River, since late in the workweek. As a cold front pushes east, this extreme warmth is getting squeezed, but not before spitting out some more records.

Dozens of record highs are expected Saturday, with a similar amount of record warm low temperatures possible Saturday night. New York City’s Central Park had already set a record high of 67 degrees as of early afternoon, along with at least 50 other locations. Boston reached 70 degrees, marking only the third time that the mercury has hit that number there in January since temperature records began in 1872.

Record highs are a good bet across a large swath of the Eastern United States on Saturday. (

This bout of warmth comes during or near the coldest time of the year on average for places it is impacting. It’s been anything but frigid in 2020 so far.

Through the first 10 days of the month, the Lower 48 was running nearly five degrees above normal. Parts of the central United States were as much as 15 degrees above normal. Temperatures near 70 in the nation’s capital are more appropriate for mid- or late April rather than January.

While it’s tempting to wonder if winter will ever show up in some spots that have been dealing with this warmth, there are signs it will awaken toward late January.

Jason Samenow contributed to this report.

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