Tornadoes touched down in Mississippi and Alabama as thunderstorms swept through the area Tuesday, while a powerful snowstorm buried parts of Colorado and Nebraska in more than a foot of snow before crawling into the Upper Midwest.
Greg Flynn, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said a confirmed tornado was reported just before 3:30 p.m. in eastern Newton and Lauderdale counties, largely rural areas in the eastern part of the state. Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said the storm damaged homes, toppled trees and knocked out power.
In Alabama, the National Weather Service in Birmingham reported a “confirmed large and destructive tornado” on the ground near the city of Aliceville, about 45 miles west of Tuscaloosa. Minor injuries were reported.
Several counties were opening community safe rooms for people to take shelter as storms moved through the area, where unseasonably warm weather was being forced to mix with cold air pushed in by the storm front creating blizzard conditions in the Plains, said Greg Carbin with the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.
The combination of snow in one part of the country and severe thunderstorms in another isn’t unusual when a powerful system moves across the country, Carbin said.
“February can feature some exciting dynamics in the atmosphere,” Carbin said. “This system we’ve had our eye on since it was in the Pacific.”
The weather system that blew in from California steadily dumped snow on the Denver area Monday and continued overnight. Heavy snowfall and powerful winds on Tuesday knocked out power, prompt schools and businesses to close, and triggered flight cancellations across a swath of states from Colorado to northern Michigan.
Tornado watches were issued for parts of Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama, while blizzard and winter storm warnings remained in effect from Nebraska to northern Michigan. Parts of major interstates were closed in eastern Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado and Kansas throughout the day.
Greg Dial with the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center said warm air from the Gulf of Mexico kept the snow at bay farther south and was bringing unusually high winter temperatures to many states. The temperature in Evansville, Indiana, for example, was forecast to peak at 69 degrees on Tuesday.
Josh Funk reported from Omaha, Nebraska. Associated Press reporters also contributing to this report were Colleen Slevin in Denver; Dirk Lammers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri; and Nelson Lampe and Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska.