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Simulated radar showing numerous heavy showers and thunderstorms across the South and Southeast during the afternoon of March 25, 2021. Credit: WeatherBell.

A tornado killed at least five people and injured several others in Calhoun County, Alabama, the county's coroner confirmed Thursday evening, according to NBC-affiliate WVTM13.

The big picture: A major tornado outbreak featuring high-end, "violent" tornadoes is underway across the South, with cities including Birmingham and Nashville at risk of severe weather.

The latest: The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center has issued a rare category 5 out of 5, "high risk" for severe weather, including potentially "violent" tornadoes, mainly for northern Alabama.

  • A large tornado struck in or close to Brent and Centreville, Alabama, around 5 p.m. local time, prompting the Weather Service to issue a "tornado emergency" and warn of potentially "catastrophic" damage.
  • Radar showed a large amount of debris from this tornado lofted into the atmosphere in what is known as a "debris ball" signature. "What you are seeing is graphic violence," said Birmingham TV meteorologist James Spann as he described the radar shown to viewers.

The National Weather Service issued a "particularly dangerous situation" tornado watch for much of Mississippi and Alabama through 8 p.m local time. The watch text indicates that "numerous tornadoes and several intense tornadoes" are expected in this area, along with storms containing very large hail and damaging straight-line winds.

  • The watch area includes Jackson and Tupelo, Mississippi, and Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Another tornado watch is in effect for southern Illinois, southern Indiana, western and central Kentucky, southeast Missouri, northeastern Mississippi and western and middle Tennessee until 11 p.m.
  • This watch area includes Nashville, Tennessee, as well as Paducah, Kentucky.
  • Earlier, one long-lasting severe thunderstorm tore a path across Alabama, causing significant damage.
    • A large tornado from this storm passed south and east of Tuscaloosa at about 12:30 p.m. local time, prompting a rare "particularly dangerous situation" tornado warning.
    • That storm then moved northeast toward Birmingham where it spawned another tornado southeast of Birmingham, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a tornado emergency.
    • This tornado damaged Spann's home while he was broadcasting from the TV studio. He told viewers his family was ok, though his home sustained significant damage.
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Details: The stage continues to be set for a dangerous evening in the South as warm, humid air flows north from the Gulf of Mexico, just as a pinwheeling area of low pressure at upper levels of the atmosphere moves in from the west. Fronts associated with these features are setting off multiple rounds of severe thunderstorms.

  • Winds blowing at different speeds and/or directions with height are ensuring that storms have the propensity to rotate, putting large hail and tornadoes on the list of threats.
  • The storms developed first in central to northern Alabama and Mississippi on Thursday afternoon, with the threat shifting north into Tennessee and parts of the Ohio Valley this evening into the overnight.

Between the lines: Severe weather in this region can be especially deadly due to the housing types that are prevalent here, including large numbers of mobile homes.

  • With thick tree cover, hills and winding roads, tornadoes that can be wrapped in areas of heavy rain can be harder to spot than twisters in the Great Plains.
  • Nighttime tornadoes are especially deadly, in part due to the difficulty of warning residents and ensuring they reach safe shelters in time. This severe thunderstorm outbreak is forecast to continue into the evening and possibly the overnight hours.

Go deeper

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.

Scoop: Inside Jake Sullivan's call with U.S. hostages' families

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke last week with relatives of U.S. hostages and others wrongfully detained abroad, after more than two dozen families expressed frustrations about their inability to get a meeting with him or President Biden, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Participants on the video call, which began at 7pm ET Friday and lasted more than an hour, told Axios they didn't get satisfactory answers to many of their questions. Nonetheless, they were encouraged by Sullivan's commitment to follow up and pledge to be personally available to them and others going forward.

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