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Significant tornado threat and potential severe weather outbreak target parts of Ohio Valley and South


By Elizabeth Wolfe, Mary Gilbert and Robert Shackelford, CNN

(CNN) — The threat of a severe weather outbreak is growing as tens of millions of people across the eastern half of the United States face severe thunderstorms capable of damaging wind gusts, dangerous hail and destructive tornadoes.

“A potentially substantial severe weather outbreak – possibly including a few significant/long-track tornadoes – is anticipated this afternoon and evening,” the Storm Prediction Center warned Tuesday morning.

The first of these thunderstorms rumbled to life early Tuesday afternoon in portions of Missouri and Illinois. Storms will continue to expand in scope and strength through the afternoon and evening and eventually stretch from the Gulf Coast through the Ohio Valley.

The storms pose the most significant threat for tornadoes so far this year, with parts of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana most at risk. Ohio hasn’t been warned of a tornado threat this substantial in more than 10 years, according to SPC data. It’s in this region where strong tornadoes could form and stay on the ground for several miles at a time.

A first round of damaging storms rolled through the Ohio Valley Tuesday morning and knocked out power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses, according to Damaging winds of 40 to 60 mph battered much of the area, but a 92 mph gust was reported in Huntington, West Virginia.

The Lexington, Kentucky, area saw “significant damage” after storms rolled through early Tuesday, Mayor Linda Gorton said at a press conference.

The damage and the threat of stronger storms to come prompted Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to declare a statewide state of emergency Tuesday.

“We need all Kentuckians to stay weather aware as we brace for more severe weather,” Gov. Beshear said in a press release Tuesday.

Tornadoes are also possible Tuesday afternoon and evening outside of the area of greatest risk in a widespread area from Alabama and western Georgia north to parts of Indiana and West Virginia. Tornadoes here could reach at least EF2 strength.

All told, more than 75 million people are at risk for severe thunderstorms from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. Many could encounter damaging winds of 60 to 80 mph and hail ranging from the size of quarters to baseballs.

Over 17 million people from Illinois to Maryland also face a flood threat from the storms, with flood watches lasting into the evening and rainfall totals of up to 5 inches possible.

The same severe weather system tore through the central US on Monday, prompting more than 100 storm reports across the region, including three tornadoes in Oklahoma. Homes were damaged by the storms in Barnsdall, Oklahoma, around 40 miles north of Tulsa, town police told CNN.

“I was on duty and patrolling the streets when it came through,” Barnsdall officer Eric Sofian said. “There was a lot of heavy wind, a lot of lightning and I could see a lot of sparks flying from the power lines.”

Massive hailstones were reported in Texas, including one as large as 4.5 inches in diameter in Briar – bigger than a softball.

The tornado threat will lessen Wednesday as storms shift east, but there is still a Level 2 of 5 risk for severe thunderstorms with damaging winds, hail and even a tornado or two from the mid-Atlantic to Florida.

Significant snow coming

Rain north of the severe weather will transition to snow and a wintry mix later Tuesday in areas of the Midwest and Great Lakes, and rain and snow showers will continue in parts of both regions through Thursday.

Cities including Chicago could even see a few flakes, but little accumulation of snowfall is expected.

The highest snowfall totals are expected across the parts of Michigan and Wisconsin, where snowfall of 6 to 12 inches is possible through Thursday. Snowfall could snarl travel in the region.

Winter-like weather will shift into the interior Northeast beginning Wednesday, where winter storm watches are in effect for much of the interior region into Friday.

The Adirondacks could see up to a foot of snowfall by Thursday, while parts of the Green and White Mountains can see over a foot of snowfall. Gusts up to 50 mph combined with heavy snowfall can cause blowing snow and can cause power outages and travel delays.

Major cities across the Northeast, including New York City, Boston and Philadelphia, are currently forecast to see rain.

CNN’s Amy Simonson and Jeff Winter contributed to this report.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN-Weather/Environment

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