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Sprawling storm wallops US with tornado reports, damage and heavy snow, closing roads and schools

The South was hit with tornado warnings and high winds that blew roofs off homes, flipped over campers and tossed about furniture, while another storm brought cities across the Midwest to a standstill with more than half a foot of snow

Vehicles navigate snowy roads during a blizzard in Waukee, Iowa, USA
Vehicles navigate snowy roads during a blizzard in Waukee, Iowa, USA, 09 January 2024.JIM LO SCALZO (EFE)

A sprawling storm hit the South with tornado warnings and high winds that blew roofs off homes, flipped over campers and tossed about furniture in Florida on Tuesday. Another storm brought cities across the Midwest to a standstill with more than half a foot of snow, stranding people on highways as it headed to the Northeast.

In the South, the violent storm with 55 mph (88 kph) winds and hail moved through the Florida Panhandle and into parts of Alabama and Georgia by sunrise Tuesday, along with at least several reports of radar-confirmed tornadoes, the National Weather Service said. A wind gust of 106 mph (171 kph) was recorded before dawn near the coast in Walton County, Florida.

A section of Panama City Beach, Florida, showed parts of roofs blown away, furniture, fences and debris strewn about and a house that appeared tilted on side, leaning on another home.

In Panama City, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) away, police early Tuesday asked residents to stay indoors and off the roads “unless absolutely necessary” as officers checked on damage from the storms, including downed power lines and trees.

The city is in Bay County, where there had been multiple reports of tornadoes on the ground, Sheriff Tommy Ford said in a brief Facebook Live post.

“We’ve rescued people out of structures,” he said.

The department urged people to stay home, posting photos of a damaged apartment complex and marina. The Walton County sheriff’s department in the Florida Panhandle posted photos of power lines draped across a road, damage to a gas station and large pieces of building materials littering the area. About 70 miles (112 kilometers) northeast, in Jackson County, Florida, photos showing damage to a campground and RV park in Marianna were posted.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order to include 49 counties in North Florida under a state of emergency from tornadoes.

Heavy rain across Georgia stopped air traffic at Atlanta’s busy airport for a time Tuesday morning and caused flash flooding, blocking some lanes on freeways around Atlanta during the morning commute. More than 80 public school systems across Georgia called off classes entirely while others taught students online or delayed the start of in-person classes.

More than 200,000 customers were without power in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, according to the PowerOutage.us website.

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency before the storm approached so weight and size restrictions on large and heavy trucks containing emergency supplies or agricultural goods would be waived. Some schools were canceled or shut down early to avoid the threats from high winds and flooding.

Meanwhile, in the Midwest, where a snowstorm started Monday, up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of snow could blanket a broad area stretching from southeastern Colorado all the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. That includes western Kansas, eastern Nebraska, large parts of Iowa, northern Missouri and northwestern Illinois, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

In Des Moines, Iowa, Laura Burianov had nearly finished shoveling her driveway Tuesday morning. But with snow still falling, she acknowledged she likely would have to shovel again later in the day.

“It’s going to get harder. I shoveled last night and you can’t really tell, but I can pretend that three less inches makes a difference,” she said.

Matt Stilwell’s street in Des Moines was still buried with more than 6 inches (15 centimeters) of snow as a plow had not come through. But he had nearly cleared off his driveway and sidewalk.

“I was out twice last night. With heavy snow such as this, I think it’s easier to chip away at it,” he said.

The storm dumped around 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 centimeters) of snow across Kansas, eastern Nebraska and South Dakota, western Iowa and southwestern Minnesota on Monday, with 15 inches (38 centimeters) at North Sioux City, South Dakota, the National Weather Service reported. Lower amounts fell over western Iowa, central Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

It was the first major winter storm of the season for the Kansas City metro area in Kansas and Missouri, where the National Weather Service predicted 6 inches (15 centimeters) of snow by the time the storm moved on later Tuesday.

From the Midwest, the storm was expected to head east, bringing a combination of snow, rain and strong winds to the Northeast by Tuesday night, as well as concerns about flooding in areas such as New England, parts of which got more than a foot of snow Sunday. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy already declared a state of emergency ahead of what’s expected to be heavy rain and wind that will exacerbate the effects of bad weather conditions since December.

The weather has already affected campaigning for Iowa’s Jan. 15 precinct caucuses, where the snow is expected to be followed by frigid temperatures that could drift below zero degrees (minus 18 Celsius).

It forced former President Donald Trump’s campaign to cancel multiple appearances by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders and her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had been scheduled to court Iowa voters on Trump’s behalf Monday.

Whiteout conditions in central Nebraska closed a long stretch of Interstate 80, while Kansas closed Interstate 70 from the central city of Russell all the way west to the Colorado border due to dangerous travel conditions. Several vehicles slid off I-70 in the northeastern part of the state, authorities said.

Parts of northern Missouri braced for up to a foot of snow as the system moved east. Officials in Kansas City, Missouri, said City Hall would be closed Tuesday and municipal courts would operate remotely.

Madison, Wisconsin, was under a winter storm warning until early Wednesday, with as much as 9 inches (23 centimeters) of snow and 40 mph (64 kph) winds on tap.

Northwestern Illinois was also under a winter storm warning with forecasts calling for 7 to 12 inches (18 to 30 centimeters) of snow by early Wednesday. The Chicago area as well as Gary, Indiana, were under winter storm advisories, with forecasts calling for up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) of snow and wind gusts of up to 30 mph (48 kph). Snowfall rates could exceed an inch per hour Tuesday, the weather service said.

Another storm was on the way that will affect the Pacific Northwest into the northern Rockies, Oravec said. Blizzard warnings were out for much of the Cascade and Olympic ranges in Washington and Oregon.

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