Tornado Kills Several in Texas, with More Deaths Reported in the Region

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Severe tornado-spawning storms tore through the south-central United States overnight Saturday, leaving several people dead and authorities looking for more victims.

More than a dozen people died in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma because of the storms, the Associated Press reported. At least four of those deaths were in northern Arkansas, officials said: two in Marion County, one in Benton County and one in Baxter County.

In Benton County, the roof of the courthouse appeared to have been “picked up, folded in half and peeled over” from heavy winds, County Judge Barry Moehring said. Responders had spent most of the day clearing roads of fallen trees.

“It almost looks like a bowling ball went through a forest,” Moehring said.

But the highest concentration of deaths was in northern Texas. Sheriff Ray Sappington, of Cooke County, Tex. – just across the border with Oklahoma – said five people had been found dead there and deputies were searching flattened homes Sunday.

“We feel like that number may rise,” he told The Washington Post.

Crews were also searching for two preteens who have been reported missing, Sappington said.

Of the five people who died in Cooke County, an adult and two children were found inside a home that had blown apart, Sappington said. The other two people killed were swept up and discovered in pastures.

The situation was too fluid Sunday morning to give a number of those who are injured, Sappington said.

But there were details about one dramatic scene in the city of Valley View: Between 60 and 80 people had taken refuge inside a truck stop before the storm tore apart the building. Sappington said there were about 10 to 15 people with minor injuries, “but, surprisingly, no fatalities.”

Agencies from throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex came to help the rural county of about 45,000 people.

“We’re still in search-and-rescue mode for the most part,” Sappington said. “We are recovering the deceased, but as with most small communities and small towns, people pull together.”

In Sanger, Tex., a city in Denton County, an unknown number of people died at a destroyed mobile home park, Sanger Fire Department Assistant Chief Casey Welborn said Sunday. He said the total was less than six.

Denton County spokeswoman Dawn Cobb said workers were assessing the storm damage late Sunday morning and following its path through the rural area, so the total numbers of injuries and possible deaths in the county were unclear. Based on preliminary reports, she said she estimated fewer than 25 people were hurt.

Crews were setting up portable bathrooms and hand-washing stations for those who had lost their homes, Cobb said. Workers were also rushing water to the area; by evening it was 97 degrees with 37 percent humidity.

More than 486,000 people in Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas were without electricity as of Sunday afternoon, according to

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What produced Saturday’s tornadoes

On Saturday night, “large and extremely dangerous” tornadoes tore across the Plains and Ozarks after dark. The low-level jet stream – a river of swift southerly winds about a mile above the ground – intensified around 8 p.m., contributing to greater shear, or changing winds with height. That meant any storms left would be prone to rotate more fiercely, increasing the tornado threat.

By then, most of the storms had already moved east of Interstate 35 in Oklahoma and Kansas. But as of 9 p.m., a few discrete, isolated cells had taken on rotating supercell characteristics. One cell was present in North Texas; one near Ardmore, Okla.; one in northeastern Oklahoma; and one east of Wichita.

The southernmost supercell produced a tornado that crossed I-35 in Valley View, midway between Dallas and the Oklahoma border, around 10:38 p.m. Central time. The storm rapidly intensified in the final 20 minutes before producing the tornado, with a plume of warm, moist air exploding upward and doubling the size of the storm’s anvil cloud.

At 10:51 p.m., meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Tulsa were tracking another severe thunderstorm and issued a tornado warning for the city of Claremore, Okla. The tornado hit about a half-hour later.

Decatur, Ark., was hit by another tornado from that same parent supercell thunderstorm. A warning was issued at 12:42 a.m., and the tornado hit around 1:15 a.m. The National Weather Service once again saw debris on radar and described it as “a confirmed large and extremely dangerous tornado.”

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The risk for more storms and tornadoes Sunday

More severe storms could arrive Sunday. A Level 3 out of 5 enhanced risk of severe weather covers a broad swath of the Midwest and the Tennessee Valley, and includes Indianapolis; Cincinnati; Nashville; Bowling Green, Ky.; and Louisville.

Storms were ongoing across northern Tennessee and southwestern Kentucky midmorning, with widespread strong to damaging winds and a few tornadoes. A few more storms are expected through the afternoon before a line of severe thunderstorms arrives with more wind and a tornado threat during the evening.

A Level 2 out of 5 severe weather risk extends from Chicago to the Carolina Piedmont to the northern portion of the Deep South, and encompasses Chattanooga, Tenn.; Huntsville, Ala.; Memphis; and Little Rock.

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(c) Washington Post



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