Tornadoes: A “Specially Hazardous Situation” Tornado Watch has been issued for 3 southern states

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Numerous tornadoes — including a few intense ones — are possible Tuesday afternoon and evening for parts of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi as severe storms lift the area, a situation that prompted forecasters to issue a special tornado watch warning residents of an unusual risk level.

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A “specially hazardous situation” tornado watch, reserved for the most significant threats of severe storms and used for only 3% of watches, was issued for some areas of these states by the Storm Prediction Center.

The watch, which covered nearly 2.5 million people in far southeast Arkansas, north and central Louisiana and central Mississippi, was to be in effect from shortly after noon to 10 p.m. 19 CT.

This comes as severe storms could hit a much wider swath of the United States from Tuesday into early Wednesday, from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest, with tornadoes, damaging winds and hail, forecasters said.

But prediction center forecasters focused particularly on Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, saying “parameters appear to be favorable for strong and long-track tornadoes,” meaning those that stay on the ground for an extended period, Tuesday afternoon and early evening in the watch area.

“Numerous tornadoes (are expected) with a few intense tornadoes likely,” along with scattered large hail and scattered damaging winds up to 70 mph, forecasters on the special tornado watch said.

Overall, more than 41 million people from southeast Texas east to Georgia and north to central Indiana and Illinois are under at least a marginal threat of severe weather Tuesday, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

Separate from the special tornado watch, the prediction center established an area where it believed the greatest potential for severe weather, including tornadoes, existed—covering 1.6 million people in east-central Louisiana; a slice of southeast Arkansas; large parts of Mississippi, including Jackson; and northwestern Alabama. The threat for this area — a level 4 out of 5 or moderate — is relatively rare at this time of year, and tornadoes, although they can occur year-round, are more frequent in the spring and summer.

“Severe thunderstorms in the fall and winter can be extremely impactful and can sometimes catch people off guard, as thunderstorms tend to occur less frequently in the cooler months,” Bill Bunting, chief of forecast operations at the Storm Prediction Center, told CNN Weather.

A level 3 of 5 or enhanced risk zone encircles this area, covering 2.8 million people across parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, as well as a small portion of eastern Texas, southeastern Arkansas, southwestern Tennessee and western Alabama.

What is a long-track tornado?

  • Long-track tornadoes are tornadoes that are on the ground for an extended period of time. Most tornadoes are on the ground for a few minutes, but with some severe events, tornadoes can be on the ground for hours. This type of tornado is known to cause extensive damage.
  • Some tornadoes could happen overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, making them even more threatening because it’s harder during those hours to warn people to take shelter.

    “Another challenge with nighttime tornadoes, especially in the fall and winter, is that storms typically move very quickly, at times 50 or 60 mph,” Bunting said.

    “This means you need to make decisions quickly and seek shelter based on information contained in the severe thunderstorm or tornado warning, and not wait until the storm arrives,” Bunting added.

    The same storm system also brought heavy snowfall to 13 states across the West and Upper Midwest, with millions of people under winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings Tuesday morning.

    In general, about 2 to 4 inches of rain could fall in the south-central United States, and totals could be higher in far southern parts of Mississippi and Alabama, where the storms could stall, the Weather Prediction Center said.

    It could cause flooding in areas where the ground is moist from recent rains, the prediction center said. Flood watches are in place Tuesday for parts of southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi and Alabama.

    In anticipation of the storms, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency urged residents to document property that could be damaged.

    “We encourage Mississippians to take pictures of their homes BEFORE the storms. These pictures can be used for insurance purposes and/or possible assistance if your home is damaged in the storm,” the agency said on its Twitter account.

    This is the first time since the Storm Prediction Center began using its five-tier risk system in 2014 that a Level 4 risk of severe storms has been announced twice in November, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.

    The second Level 4 came on the fourth day of this month, when 62 tornado reports were made across Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, according to the prediction center. Many homes and businesses were damaged.

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