Jan 2, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Winter storm hits Plains, Midwest with severe threat in South

Satellite view of the sprawling storm affecting the Plains to the Midwest south to the Gulf Coast on Monday.

Image: NOAA

Extreme winter weather bearing down on the Plains and upper Midwest overnight with heavy snow was threatening to unleash strong tornadoes in the South.

The latest: Over three million people were under tornado watches across parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Arkansas — where local officials said there were unconfirmed reports of a tornado damaging Jessieville High School during powerful winds.

  • "Damage was sustained to areas of the school due to trees, and power lines," per a Garland County Sheriff’s Office statement that said the National Weather Service was working to confirm whether it was a tornado.
  • "The school was ... in session at the time, however, all students have been accounted for and reports of no injury."

The big picture: This latest storm originated over the Pacific and crashed ashore along the West Coast as an atmospheric river event over the weekend. Cities in the path of the severe weather on Monday include Memphis, Little Rock and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

  • The threat will shift eastward on Tuesday with intense snow of one to two inches per hour expected for southern South Dakota and southwest Minnesota, according to a National Weather Service online forecast discussion.
  • Heavy rain in parts of the Mississippi Valley and the Gulf Coast could trigger flash flooding.

Why it matters: It's poised to bring multiple hazards — including a severe winter threat — to the Central U.S. and significantly thwart holiday travel once again as ice accumulations make road conditions dangerous.

Threat level: The National Weather Service issued a level three out of five risk of severe thunderstorms through Monday night, including a potential for strong tornadoes from eastern Texas to northern Louisiana, all of Arkansas, and parts of Oklahoma. 

What they’re saying: There’s a good chance flights out of Denver International Airport would be canceled, the NWS Boulder tweeted Monday, citing a "pretty unique" report out of DIA that indicated less than a quarter mile visibility.

  • Tuesday might be the worst for snow and ice accumulations in Minnesota, according to NWS Twin Cities, which urged residents to prepare for power outages and fallen trees on Monday.
  • The storm beginning Monday night and into Tuesday in Des Moines could mean roads develop at least a quarter inch of ice, said the local NWS, prompting “significant travel disruptions.”

Go deeper: Southwest flights are back on schedule after days of chaos

Editor's note: This article has been updated with details of the suspected tornado in Arkansas.

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