A large tornado touched down near Little Rock, Ark., Friday afternoon, downing trees and destroying homes, forcing meteorologists at the local office to evacuate, according to the National Weather Service.
The tornado was part of a complex and dangerous storm system that began to pound the upper Midwest and South, forecasters said.
Images from Little Rock showed debris and damage to homes from the tornado, which local television station KATV described as “catastrophic,” with widespread damage expected. In addition to a tornado emergency for parts of Little Rock, forecasters also declared emergencies for nearby Sherwood and Jacksonville, Ark. It was unclear if there were any injuries.
Meteorologists at the National Weather Service office in Little Rock had to go to a tornado shelter Friday afternoon as it became clear their office was in the path of the tornado. Desiree Meadows, a meteorologist in Memphis, said the Weather Service’s Memphis office plans to issue warnings and monitor weather on their behalf. Following the tornado, another tornado warning was issued for the Little Rock area.
The worst of the storm system is far from over. Damaging winds and very large hail are expected in the region till evening. Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center said. Widespread and damaging thunderstorms are possible, and flash flooding is also possible. forecasters said.
“Keep in mind these storms are moving fast today,” said Ashton Robinson Cook, a meteorologist at the Weather Forecast Center. “So if you find yourself in someone’s path, be prepared to take shelter immediately.”
In the evening, the storms are expected to move eastward through the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, where they are expected to bring damaging winds and large hail, and may develop strong tornadoes.
More than 28 million people were under a hurricane watch Friday afternoon. The weather service said. A tornado warning has been issued for areas including Peoria, Ill.
A tornado watch Central and Eastern Iowa, Western Illinois, North and Central Missouri and Southwest Wisconsin were issued until 8 p.m. Central Time. The weather service said it could see “several” strong tornadoes, including some severe tornadoes, large hail up to 3 inches in diameter and widespread damaging winds of 70 mph.
Another one Hurricane Watch Central Time issued until 8 p.m. for most of Arkansas, southeast Missouri, southern Illinois, eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee and northeast Mississippi. Meteorological Department said Several strong tornadoes could bring tennis-ball-sized hail and gusts of up to 70 mph.
North West Regions Louisiana, southern Oklahoma, and northeastern Texas Another cyclone was under watch.
Storms could affect an area stretching from Louisiana to Wisconsin, including Little Rock, Memphis, St. Louis, Des Moines, Chicago and other major cities. A large portion of the Mississippi Valley could have “at least a few long-track, strong first violent tornadoes,” Forecast Center said.
Before the storms, Workers were engaged in clearing the debris From drains in flood prone areas. Officials encouraged Residents should have multiple means of sheltering in place, preparing for possible power outages, and receiving weather warnings, such as on their phones and radios.
Officesls too said the people Destroy large or loose objects From their property, patio furniture, dead trees and overhanging branches that can become “dangerous projectiles” in high winds.
The storms could affect parts of Mississippi, which was devastated last week by tornadoes that killed at least 26 people.
President Biden visited Rolling Fork, Mississippi, a community hit hard by last week’s tornadoes, on Friday. The tornado killed 13 people and destroyed homes and businesses in Rolling Fork and surrounding Sharkey County.
Friday afternoon Storm Prediction Center The severe weather risk was upgraded to “high” – the highest on a five-category scale – for parts of Iowa, Illinois and Missouri near the Iowa-Illinois border, as well as another area that includes parts of eastern Arkansas and northwestern Missouri. and southwest Tennessee, including Memphis.
Two years ago, on March 25, 2021, hours before a powerful tornado struck Alabama and Georgia, killing at least six people, the Center last used a high-level designation for severe weather.
The Storm Prediction Center extended a “moderate” risk designation, level four, to much of Illinois and Indiana. The region includes parts of eastern Missouri and Arkansas, western Tennessee and Kentucky, northern Mississippi, and northwestern Alabama. More than 18 million people live in high and moderate risk areas.
Weather Service Advised Residents should heed safety warnings. If a tornado warning is issued, people should move to a safe place, preferably an indoor room on the ground floor of a sturdy building.
The Quad Cities will receive two rounds of severe weather on Friday. forecasters said. The first was expected to start in the afternoon and the second in the early evening. During both events, winds could reach 75 mph, and some strong gusts are possible.
Storms can produce heavy rains that can lead to flash floods. The flood risk area through Friday night stretches from Arkansas to Kentucky and includes western Tennessee and northern Mississippi. This will be followed by thunderstorms with damaging winds across the northern Appalachians and interior Northeast on Saturday.
Derrick Bryson Taylor And John Keefe Contributed report.