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Massive Severe Weather Outbreak Threatens Tens of Millions From Texas to East Coast

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A widespread and potentially dangerous severe weather outbreak is taking shape across the eastern half of the United States this week, with tens of millions of Americans bracing for the threat of destructive tornadoes, hail as large as grapefruits, and destructive straight-line winds. Federal forecasters have already issued this year’s first Level 4 out of 5 “moderate risk” for severe storms in parts of the Southern Plains, a rarity reserved for days with an enhanced likelihood of strong, long-tracked tornadoes.

The volatile severe weather setup arrives as April kicks off the most active three months for tornadoes in the United States. NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma is already sounding the alarm for what could be an extended, multi-day severe weather siege impacting a massive area stretching from Texas to the East Coast through Tuesday and potentially into Wednesday.

“A particularly dangerous situation is unfolding that could produce strong, long-track tornadoes, widespread damaging winds, and large, destructive hail from the southern Plains to the Ohio Valley through Tuesday,” said Bill Bunting, the SPC’s operations chief. “We’re looking at a high-end multi-day severe weather episode that will need to be taken seriously by those in its path.”

The dire warnings kicked off Monday afternoon as severe thunderstorms first erupted over portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. Already, the storms have unleashed formidable hail, damaging wind gusts, and spawned tornadoes causing damage on Monday. Baseball-sized hail pelted areas around Nugent, Texas, large enough to smash through home windows. Wind gusts over 80 mph ripped roofs off homes near Shackelford, while toppling trees and powerlines from Texas to Kentucky.

Near Lenapah, Oklahoma, a tornado struck a tractor-trailer, trapping one person inside according to the National Weather Service. Another tornado was reported near Hominy in the same state. As night fell, the SPC continued warning of an “extremely violent” tornado risk that could persist after dark. Nighttime tornadoes are particularly dangerous, more than twice as likely to be fatal compared to those during daytime hours when most people are awake and able to receive urgent alerts and warnings.

While the highest tornado risk will remain across the traditional “Tornado Alley” of the Great Plains on Monday night, severe storms will push eastward on Tuesday, potentially spinning up twisters across a broad corridor from the Ohio Valley into the mid-Atlantic states. Nearly 80 million people live within this risk area on Tuesday from Ohio to Maryland, including major metropolitan areas like St. Louis, Louisville, Nashville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., and Baltimore.

“The greatest tornado risk looks to shift into the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys on Tuesday, including the potential for strong, long-tracked tornadoes across the Ohio Valley,” Bunting warned. Already, the SPC is highlighting an elevated “significant tornado parameter” focused over Ohio that denotes an enhanced threat for EF2 or higher intensity twisters beginning Tuesday afternoon.

But it won’t just be tornadoes that residents across the eastern United States must brace for over the next 48 hours. Forecasters are extremely concerned over the potential for widespread destructive straight-line winds from the sprawling line of severe thunderstorms, as well as large hail, some potential larger than baseballs.  

“A very energetic storm system will provide the fuel for intense thunderstorms capable of producing winds over 70 mph and hail up to the size of grapefruits or larger,” said Fox Weather meteorologist Marissa Lautenschlager. “The size of the hail threat area is immense, putting millions of people at risk from Texas to Kentucky.”

Meteorologists fear that fierce winds from these storms, potentially widespread over the Ohio Valley, could be equally if not more destructive than tornadoes, capable of downing trees and powerlines, causing structural damage, and even flipping cars or mobile homes. Experts are urging anyone in the path of these storms to have multiple ways of receiving urgent weather alerts given the expansive threat zone.

“We’re looking at a multi-day, high-impact event with the potential for widespread, devastating impacts over such a broad area,” said Fox Weather meteorologist Nick Merianos. “If you have friends or family anywhere from St. Louis to Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, or Washington D.C., you’ll want to make sure they’re prepared and have a reliable way to receive weather warnings over the next few days.”

While the overall severe weather threat is expected to gradually diminish by Wednesday, lingering thunderstorms could still produce intense wind gusts and large hail from the Carolinas into Florida midweek as the volatile system tracks toward the East Coast. Residents across many major I-95 corridor cities like Richmond, Raleigh, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. will need to maintain vigilance into Wednesday.

The looming severe weather outbreak is part of the same vigorous storm system responsible for spawning deadly tornadoes across portions of the South this past weekend that killed at least 32 people. With the prospect of additional widespread impacts across such a heavily populated corridor, emergency managers and meteorologists are stressing advanced preparedness messaging to avoid a repeat of catastrophic loss of life.

“Knowing where to shelter quickly if warnings are issued can’t be overstated with an event like this,” said Brad Barrett, a meteorologist for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. “Having a plan in place, monitoring weather alerts, and getting to a safe place immediately at the first sign of a warning could be the difference between life and death.”  

Forecasters and emergency personnel are already bracing for what could turn into a multi-day severe weather marathon of historic proportions across a densely populated and high-risk region of the country. The message is clear: prepare now, remain vigilant, and heed all weather warnings without delay from this particularly volatile and dangerous severe thunderstorm outbreak.

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