An early winter blast met record fall heat Friday, leading to a strong, large storm system in the South and creating the biggest tornado threat the United States has seen in more than five months.
At least one person is dead in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, where extensive storm damage was reported, according to county emergency manager Cody McDaniel.
Nine twisters formed in Texas, four in Arkansas, and one in Oklahoma, a preliminary count by the National Storm Prediction Service shows.
The total number will likely increase in light of Saturday, and the intensity of each will not be known until local NWS offices survey the damage, which could take several days.
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 is in effect Friday evening until midnight for parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.
At least four homes were damaged in Hopkins County, Texas, by a tornado, the sheriff’s office said. No injuries were reported.
In neighboring Lamar County, where Paris is the county seat, “there was quite a bit of damage and some injuries,” Lamar County Constable Travis Rhodes told CNN Friday night.
In Oklahoma, a woman was injured by a falling tree as she headed to a storm shelter, Lewis Collins, a volunteer with the Choctaw Office of Emergency Management, told CNN. It was unclear if a tornado had passed through the area, he said.
The Storm Prediction Center has highlighted a ‘moderate risk’ – a Level 4 out of 5 – area of severe thunderstorms on Friday for eastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, southwestern Arkansas and northwestern Louisiana.
The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area remains under an increased risk – a Level 3 out of 4 – for Friday.
“Strong Tornado Probable Areas [EF2 or higher] The prediction center said.
The watch in effect until midnight includes portions of west and central Arkansas, northwest Louisiana, southeast Oklahoma, and east and northeast Texas, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
In addition to intense tornadoes, large and very large scattered hail, larger than golf ball size (2 inches in diameter), are also possible, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
The main threat will change from tornadoes Friday afternoon and tonight to damaging winds in the overnight hours as thunderstorms line up and spread across Arkansas and Louisiana.
As the storms push east, widespread and damaging winds are expected later Friday evening across parts of the Ark-La-Tex region. That’s why the prediction center upgraded the threat level for Friday.
The forecast center added, “Storms will persist well into the night, tracking across much of Louisiana and Arkansas, and west of the Mississippi.”
This storm system will move quickly from west to east, minimizing the chance of flash flooding across the Ark-La-Tex region. Farther north, one to four inches of rain is expected through Saturday over a large area from Kansas to Wisconsin.
Rain is much needed in this region as recent droughts have caused the Mississippi River to reach record low levels, affecting transportation and the supply chain.
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 also included in the risk areas.
The greater Dallas-Fort Worth area has recently been under increased risk or above was May 24.
While tornadoes in the United States can occur any month of the year, they are most common in the spring thanks to the clash of cold and warm air during the changing seasons. The same fusion of temperatures also occurs in the autumn, which is why you will often see a high “severe season” later in the year.
“You can see that while the spring months are our busiest time climatologically, there is a high increase in tornado activity in November,” the National Weather Service in New Orleans said.
Texas sees the most tornadoes (7) in November on average, followed by Alabama (6), Louisiana (5), and Mississippi (5).
The time of day when a tornado occurs makes a big difference in the death rate. Nighttime tornadoes are more dangerous because many people are sleeping and don’t know they need to seek a safe place. While the greatest tornado threat for this particular event exists during the daytime hours, there is still the possibility of some rotating storms in the evening hours.
Make sure you have your weather safety plan ready to go before bad weather hits. Know where you’re going if the weather hits, and make sure flashlights work and cell phones are fully charged in case you lose power.
“One of the most important features of your weather safety plan is to have a reliable means of receiving severe weather warnings,” the weather service in New Orleans said.