Millions still under tornado watches as severe storms batter Midwest, Southeast

Hundreds of thousands of people were without power and millions remained under tornado watches Wednesday afternoon, as a violent storm system continued to track eastward. The severe weather tore through the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys earlier in the week, bringing heavy rain, hail and suspected tornadoes to a number of U.S. states, leaving its mark in debris. 

Only a handful of injuries have been reported so far, with 10 being the highest injury count so far in a single place after storms slammed Jeffersonville, Indiana, overnight. One suspected storm-related death was reported in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where flooding hit on Monday.

A tornado watch was in effect for four counties in central Florida, with a combined population of almost 6.5 million, through at least 5 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. The watch area encompasses several big cities, including Orlando, Gainesville, Jacksonville and St. Augustine. 

The advisory for those counties noted that powerful wind gusts of up to 70 miles per hour and a couple of tornadoes were possible, along with hail as large as marbles. Meteorologists issue a tornado watch when thunderstorms occur in places where the atmospheric conditions could potentially set the stage for a twister, but that kind of advisory does not necessarily mean that one will occur. A tornado warning is issued when the onset of a twister is imminent.

Tornado watches that had been ordered for other southeastern regions, including parts of Georgia and South Carolina, were lifted earlier on Wednesday. But tens of millions of people elsewhere in the U.S. were still told to brace for storm weather and possible flooding, particularly in pockets of the Midwest and Northeast.

Millions of people in central Florida were placed under tornado watches on Wednesday.

National Weather Service / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Meteorologists also warned that eastern Virginia and the upper part of North Carolina could be hit with strong thunderstorms on Wednesday afternoon, as a band of unstable weather gradually spreads southeastward. 

“Storms capable of producing a couple of tornadoes and damaging gusts will be possible this afternoon across eastern Virginia and vicinity, and across north and central Florida,” reads the latest outlook released by the Storm Prediction Center.

Severe thunderstorms and several possible twisters wreaked havoc on communities across the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys on Tuesday, prompting West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to declare states of emergency. 

Severe Weather Kentucky
Firefighters, right, with the Anchorage Middletown Fire Department, check houses for gas leaks following severe storms that passed through Prospect, Kentucky, Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

Timothy D. Easley / AP

In West Virginia, video footage captured Tuesday afternoon showed harsh wind gusts picking up debris in the city of Charleston, where the weather service said radar indicated that a twister had blown through earlier in the morning. The governor said in his declaration that the storms had downed trees, knocked out power, blocked roads and caused flooding. 

Parts of Kentucky were also hit hard by the storms. Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg declared a state of emergency for the city on Tuesday night as officials worked to assess and respond to what he described as “serious damage.” Images from Prospect, which is just outside of Louisville, showed tree trunks, branches and other debris scattered across the lawns of homes and covering the streets of residential neighborhoods.

In nearby Nelson County, fire officials also shared images of destruction.

At 0855 this date, NENFPD responded to the 7500 block of Lawrenceburg Road for a reported gas leak. Command 401 and…

Posted by Northeast Nelson Fire Protection District on Tuesday, April 2, 2024

The National Weather Service said it received 16 reports of tornadoes throughout the day Tuesday from six different states in the path of the storm: Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, Ohio, Alabama and Georgia.

Two reports came from Tennessee, where about 40,000 homes and businesses were without power Tuesday morning after an electric substation was struck by lightning, the Associated Press reported, citing a utility company based in Memphis. Two other stations were affected by that initial strike.

By the afternoon, meteorologists said that radar confirmed at least one tornado touched down in Sunbright, a small northeastern Tennessee city, according to CBS affiliate WVLT-TV. The weather service’s report log say that a tornado was spotted along the highway in that area. 

On Tuesday night, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said that it was aware of an “unconfirmed tornado that impacted the Sunbright community in Morgan County.” No injuries were immediately reported. 

Tornado Rips Through Sunbright, Tennessee
A utility worker walks past buildings damaged by a tornado on April 3, 2024, in Sunbright, Tennessee.

Brett Carlsen / Getty Images

WVLT-TV shared video footage of the aftermath in Morgan County on Wednesday, which showed some homes and buildings completely or partially destroyed. National Weather Service representatives told the station they would be surveying damages in the area.

Another confirmed tornado touched down shortly before midnight in Conyers, Georgia, just east of Atlanta, the weather service said. An emergency management official in the area told CBS News early Wednesday that some injuries were reported but none were considered serious or life-threatening.

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