Severe storms expected to hit the south have put more than 40 million people on alert

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Severe storms could deliver tornadoes, damaging winds and hail from the Gulf Coast to the Midwest from Tuesday afternoon through early Wednesday — but especially in the southern states, including Louisiana and Mississippi, where flooding is also a threat, forecasters say.

Follow the storms as they develop >>

More than 40 million people from southeast Texas east to Georgia and north to central Indiana and Illinois face at least mild severe weather threats Tuesday, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

The greatest potential for severe weather, including tornadoes, large hail and strong winds, is for about 1.2 million people from east-central Louisiana to much of Mississippi, including Jackson, the center said. The threat to this area – a level 4 out of 5 or moderate – is relatively rare for this time of year, as is the risk of tornadoes, which are more common in spring and summer.

“Severe fall and winter thunderstorms can be extremely devastating and sometimes catch people unprepared because thunderstorms occur less frequently in the cooler months,” Bill Bunting, head of forecasting operations at the Storm Prediction Center, told CNN Weather.

A Level 3 of 5, or expanded risk zone, surrounds this area, which includes 3.6 million people in parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, and a small portion of east Texas, east Arkansas, southwest Tennessee, and west Alabama.

“Several rounds of severe thunderstorms — some may have long-track tornadoes with EF3+ damage potential — will be possible over parts of the lower Mississippi Valley and mid-South region this afternoon through tonight,” the center said, referring to a scale of EF0 to the strongest EF5.

What is a long track tornado?

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

    “Another challenge with nighttime tornadoes, particularly in the fall and winter, is that storms typically move very quickly, sometimes at 50 or 60 miles per hour,” Bunting said.

    “That means you need to make decisions quickly and take shelter based on the information contained in the severe thunderstorm or tornado warning, rather than waiting for the storm to hit,” Bunting added.

    The same storm system has also brought heavy snowfall to 13 western and upper Midwest states, where millions of people were under winter weather warnings and winter storm warnings Tuesday morning.

    Generally, about 2 to 4 inches of rain could fall in the southern United States, and the total could be greater in the far southern parts of Mississippi and Alabama, where the storms could stall, the Weather Prediction Center said.

    That could cause flooding in areas where the ground is wet from recent rains, the forecast center said. Flood monitors will be in place Tuesday in 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 Mississippi residents to take photos of their homes BEFORE the storms. These photos can be used for insurance purposes and/or possible assistance if your home is damaged by the storm,” the agency said Twitter Account.

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

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

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