Several tornadoes — some of which may be intense — and damaging winds up to 70 mph are expected in parts of southern Alabama, western Georgia and the Florida Panhandle, forecasters warned. The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for those areas through 8 a.m. ET.
“Conditions will support the potential for a few strong/potentially intense tornadoes into the overnight,” the Storm Prediction Center warned Wednesday
Tornadoes that occur during the overnight hours tend to be more than twice as deadly
as tornadoes in other parts of the day — primarily due to the difficulty of warning the public while most are asleep.
As the storm continues to move east later Thursday, cities including Washington, DC, and Philadelphia could see strong winds, hail and isolated tornadoes. About 33 million people along the East Coast are at a sight risk (level 2 of 5) of facing those conditions, according to the SPC.
At least one injury from severe weather was reported overnight at the University of Montevallo, about 35 miles south of Birmingham. “We are thankful that this week was spring break and that very few people were on campus during tonight’s storms,” the school said, noting it was still doing a full damage assessment.
In Choctaw County, Alabama, several homes received minor to major damage, emergency officials said. Southern Choctaw High School also sustained damage to its baseball field and gym and a school bus was flipped on its side, Tyler Davidson of the Choctaw County Emergency Management Agency said.
In Mississippi, at least two mobile homes were damaged and residents had to be rescued from inside, Corey Brown from the Noxubee County Office of Emergency Management said. It’s believed they suffered non-life-threatening injuries, Brown said.
The system spawned a possible tornado in Springdale, Arkansas, around 4 a.m. Wednesday, Mayor Doug Sprouse said in a Facebook post
. The city’s southeast bore the brunt of the storm, according to local officials, who said there were reports of downed power lines, trees and traffic lights.
According to video from CNN affiliate KHBS/KHOG,
buildings were flattened, roofs were damaged and yards were covered with storm debris.
The gym at George Elementary School was destroyed, and the kitchen and cafeteria were severely damaged, the Springdale School District said.
“Many residents have been displaced from their homes and numerous businesses have reported significant damages,” Sprouse said.
No storm-related deaths were reported, the mayor said, but he noted two of the seven people who were hurt during the storm suffered critical injuries.
Storm heads toward East Coast
The storm’s threat is expected to be less severe Thursday, forecasters said.
A severe thunderstorm watch
is in effect for northern Georgia and portions eastern Tennessee during the early morning hours until 5 a.m. ET. Damaging winds are expected to gust up to 65 mph and a tornado or two is possible, the Storm Prediction Center said.
The Atlanta area can expect to see heavy rainfall and gusty winds up to 40 mph during the overnight hours, which could result in some power outages, according to the NWS
Later Thursday, the storm is expected to head toward the East Coast, possibly bringing strong wind, hail and isolated tornadoes to cities including Baltimore and Washington, DC, Raleigh, North Carolina, Norfolk, Virginia, and Philadelphia.
In addition to the possible tornado in Arkansas, high winds ahead of the storm system helped fuel a brush fire in Sevier County, Tennessee. At least one person was injured and the flames have burned through at least 1,000 acres, county officials said. At least 35 structures have been affected.