An early winter blast met record autumn temperatures on Friday, leading to a robust, intense storm system in the South and creating the biggest tornado threat the US has seen in more than five months.
At least one person is dead in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, where significant storm damage was reported, according to county emergency manager Cody McDaniel.
Nine twisters in Texas, four in Arkansas, and one in Oklahoma, a preliminary count from the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center shows.
The total number could rise in light of Saturday, and the intensity of each could take several days until local NWS offices conduct damage surveys.
In Texas, damage was confirmed west of Paris and near Sulfur Springs in the northeast of the state.
As the system moves east, a tornado watch will be in effect for parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas until midnight Friday evening.
At least four homes were damaged by tornadoes in Hopkins County, Texas, the sheriff’s office said. No injuries were reported.
In neighboring Lamar County, where Paris is the county seat, there was “some damage and some injuries,” Lamar County Constable Travis Rhodes told CNN Friday night.
In Oklahoma, a woman on her way to a storm shelter was injured by a falling tree, Lewis Collins, a volunteer with the Choctaw Office of Emergency Management, told CNN. He said it was unclear if the tornado had passed through the area.
The Storm Prediction Center highlighted a Category 4 out of 5 – ‘Moderate Risk’ – for severe thunderstorms Friday across eastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, southwestern Arkansas and northwestern Louisiana.
The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area remains under an enhanced threat — Level 3 of 4 — Friday.
“Most likely area for strong tornadoes [EF2 or higher] “From far southeast Oklahoma south to east Texas, east of the I-35 corridor,” the prediction center said.
A watch in effect until midnight covers parts of western and central Arkansas, northwestern Louisiana, southeastern Oklahoma and eastern and northeastern Texas, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
Along with severe tornadoes, large hail larger than golf ball-size (2 inches in diameter) was scattered, according to the Hurricane Prediction Center.
The main risk will change from tornadoes Friday afternoon and evening to damaging winds during the overnight hours as thunderstorms spread into Arkansas and Louisiana.
As the storms push eastward, a significant widespread and damaging wind event is forecast for parts of the Arc-la-Tex area later Friday evening. That’s why the Prediction Center upgraded the threat level on Friday.
“Storms will continue overnight, tracking across Louisiana and Arkansas and into western Mississippi, the prediction center added.
This storm system moves quickly from west to east, reducing the chance of flash flooding across the Arc-La-Tex region. To the north, one to four inches of rain is expected through Saturday across a wide area from Kansas to Wisconsin.
Rain is needed in the region as the recent drought has caused the Mississippi River to reach record low levels, affecting shipping and supply chains.
In all, 42 million people from Texas to Wisconsin were at risk of severe storms Friday. Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Kansas City and Wichita are among the areas at risk.
The greater Dallas-Fort Worth area was at enhanced risk last time or higher was May 24.
Although tornadoes can occur any month of the year in the US, they are most common in the spring due to the collision of cold and warm air as the seasons change. The same merging of temperatures also occurs in the fall, which is why you often see a secondary “extreme season” later in the year.
“Although the spring months are our busiest time climatologically, you can see a secondary increase in tornado activity in November,” said the National Weather Service in New Orleans.
Texas sees the most tornadoes (7) on average during the month of November, followed by Alabama (6), Louisiana (5), and Mississippi (5).
The time of day a tornado occurs makes a big difference in the death rate. Tornadoes at night are more dangerous because many people are asleep and don’t know they need to find a safe place. Although the highest tornado risk exists during the day for this particular event, there will still be a chance for some rotating storms during the evening.
Make sure you have your severe weather safety plan in place before bad weather hits. Know where you’ll go if severe weather hits, and make sure flashlights work and cell phones are fully charged in case you lose power.
“Having a reliable way to receive severe weather warnings is one of the most important features of your severe weather safety plans,” said the Weather Service in New Orleans.