‘Extreme peril’: Rare warning predicts fierce tornado outbreak in the South, closing vaccine sites, schools

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Camera rolls as Meteorologist Reed Timmer drives through a tornado

Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer was recording on March 13 as he drove straight through a tornado.

Accuweather, Accuweather

  • In addition to tornadoes, the storms will also be capable of producing hurricane-force winds and baseball-sized hail.
  • In all, over 40 million Americans are in the path of the fierce storms Wednesday.
  • Communities across the South were urging residents to know where their closest tornado shelters are.

The Deep South is bracing for what’s expected to be a day and night of violent weather, forecasters warn.

“A significant tornado outbreak, with long-track, intense tornadoes is expected to begin this afternoon across parts of Louisiana and Arkansas, and then spread eastward and peak this evening into tonight across Mississippi and Alabama,” the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center said. 

In addition to tornadoes, the storms will also be capable of producing hurricane-force winds and baseball-sized hail.

A rare “particularly dangerous situation” (PDS) tornado watch was issued by the center Wednesday afternoon due to the high chance of tornadoes in portions of Mississippi and Alabama. This includes the cities of Jackson, Mississippi, and Birmingham, Alabama.

PDS watches are issued when there’s a heightened risk of strong or violent, long-track tornadoes, according to meteorologist Ray Hawthorne.

Tornado watches were also in effect Wednesday afternoon in portions of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.

In all, over 40 million Americans are in the path of the fierce storms Wednesday, the center said. The area in the bullseye for possible tornadoes also includes Memphis, Tennessee, and Little Rock, Arkansas.

Earlier Wednesday, the center had also issued a Level 5, “high risk” warning for severe storms for portions of Mississippi and Alabama. That’s the highest level of risk for the severe storms that produce tornadoes. 

This is the first time since 2012 that a high risk warning has been issued in March, AccuWeather said. 

The threat will continue overnight in Alabama, which is an especially deadly time for tornadoes in the South, experts said. “The most important thing is this is coming at nighttime. This is what scares me the most, so have multiple ways to get your weather alerts,” said Nick Lolley of the Tuscaloosa County (Alabama) Emergency Management Agency.

There will be a continued threat of widespread severe storms across the Southeast into Thursday, Weather.com said. 

School systems in Alabama and Mississippi canceled classes, planned online sessions or announced early dismissals because of the threat.

In preparation for the outbreak, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency on Tuesday afternoon ahead of the severe weather.

“This severe weather event, coupled with the COVID-19 public health emergency, poses extraordinary conditions of disaster and of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within the state,” Ivey said in a statement.

More: The 2021 tornado season may be more destructive because of La Niña. Here’s the forecast.

In Mississippi, all coronavirus vaccination sites and testing locations were closed statewide in advance of the severe weather.

Communities across the South were also urging residents to know where their closest tornado shelters are.

Further to the west, on the cold side of the storm, accumulating snow and rapidly strengthening winds are expected Wednesday in the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles, where blizzard warnings are in effect, the National Weather Service said. 

Contributing: The Associated Press; The Mississippi Clarion-Ledger; The Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser

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