An early winter blast met record-breaking fall heat on Friday, spawning a strong, powerful storm system across the South and creating the biggest U.S. tornado threat in more than five months.
At least one person died in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, where extensive storm damage was reported, county emergency manager Cody McDaniel said.
Nine twisters formed in Texas, four in Arkansas and one in Oklahoma, according to a preliminary count from the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.
The totals are likely to rise Saturday, but the intensity of each won’t be known until local NWS offices conduct damage surveys, 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 for parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas until midnight Friday night.
A tornado damaged at least four homes in Hopkins County, Texas, the sheriff’s office said. No injuries were reported.
In neighboring Lamar County, home to the Paris County seat, “there was significant damage and some injuries,” Lamar County Sheriff Travis Rhodes told CNN Friday night.
In Oklahoma, a woman was injured by a fallen tree as she was taking shelter from the storm, Lewis Collins, a volunteer with the Choctaw Office of Emergency Management, told CNN. It’s unclear whether the tornado passed through the area, he said.
The Storm Prediction Center has issued a “moderate risk” — level 4 out of 5 — area of severe thunderstorms Friday for east Texas, southeast Oklahoma, southwest Arkansas and northwest Louisiana.
The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area remains under an increased risk – Level 3 of 4 Friday.
“Most likely area for severe tornadoes [EF2 or higher] will be from far southeast Oklahoma southward into East Texas, east of the I-35 corridor,” the forecast center said.
The watch, in effect until midnight, includes parts 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 to very large hail larger than golf balls (2 inches in diameter) is also possible, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
The main threat will shift from tornadoes Friday afternoon and evening to damaging winds overnight as the storms line up and spread into Arkansas and Louisiana.
As the storms move east, fairly widespread and damaging winds are forecast for parts of the Ark-La-Tex region Friday night. That’s why the forecast center raised the threat level for Friday.
“Storms will persist well into the night and will spread across much of Louisiana and Arkansas and into western Mississippi,” the forecast center added.
This storm system will move quickly from west to east, reducing the chance of flash flooding in the Ark-La-Tex region. Further north, one to four inches of rain is expected through Saturday across a wide area from Kansas to Wisconsin.
Precipitation is much needed in this region as the recent drought has resulted in record low Mississippi River levels, affecting shipping and the supply chain.
A total of 42 million people from Texas to Wisconsin were threatened by severe storms on Friday. Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Kansas City and Wichita are also included in the threatened areas.
Last time the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area was under increased risk or higher was May 24.
While tornadoes can occur in any month of the year in the United States, they are most common in the spring due to the collision of cold and hot air at the change of seasons. The same confluence of temperatures also occurs in the fall, so you’ll often see a secondary “severe season” later in the year.
“You can see that while the spring months are our busiest time climatologically, there is a secondary increase in tornado activity in November,” the National Weather Service in New Orleans said.
On average, Texas sees the most tornadoes (7) in the month of November, followed by Alabama (6), Louisiana (5), and Mississippi (5).
The time of day when a tornado occurs greatly affects the fatality rate. Nighttime tornadoes are more dangerous because many people are asleep and don’t realize they need to seek a safe location. While the higher tornado risk for this particular event exists during the daytime hours, there is still a chance for a few rotating storms during the evening hours.
Make sure you have a severe weather safety plan in place before bad weather hits. Know where you will go if severe weather occurs and make sure your lights are working and cell phones are fully charged in case you lose power.
“One of the most important features of your severe weather safety plans is to have a reliable means of receiving severe weather warnings,” the New Orleans Weather Service said.