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Tornadoes slam Florida Panhandle as severe weather barrels across state

Another storm buried cities across Midwest in more than a half a foot of snow
Cumberland Farms gas station damaged in Walton County, Jan. 9, 2023
Posted at 10:16 AM, Jan 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-09 22:04:33-05

WALTON COUNTY, Fla. — A sprawling storm hit the U.S. South, with tornado warnings and high winds that blew roofs off homes, flipped over campers and tossed about furniture in Florida on Tuesday, while another storm buried cities across the Midwest in more than a half a foot of snow, stranding people on highways as it headed to the Northeast.

The violent storm with 55 mph winds and hail moved through the Florida Panhandle and into parts of Alabama and Georgia by sunrise Tuesday, along with at least several reports of radar-confirmed tornadoes, the National Weather Service said.

Storm-related injuries were reported in Florida, but no deaths.

A wind gust of 106 mph was recorded before dawn near the coast in Walton County, Florida.

A section of Panama City Beach showed parts of roofs blown away, furniture, fences and debris strewn about and a house that appeared tilted on the side, leaning on another home, WJHG-TV reported.

In Panama City, about 10 miles away, police early Tuesday asked residents to stay indoors and off the roads "unless absolutely necessary" as officers checked on damage from the storms, including downed power lines and trees.

The city is in Bay County, where there had been multiple reports of tornadoes on the ground, Sheriff Tommy Ford said in a brief Facebook Live post.

"We've rescued people out of structures," he said.

The department urged people to stay home, posting photos of crumpled structures and debris and a message that those who have taken to the roads to see it are "making it very difficult for first responders who are rushing to help people who may be trapped in damaged homes and injured.”

The Walton County Sheriff's Office in the Florida Panhandle posted photos of power lines draped across a road, damage to a gas station and large pieces of building materials littering the area.

The National Weather Service office in Tallahassee is planning to send out three tornado survey teams on Wednesday to examine suspected tornado damage in Walton, Bay and Jackson counties in Florida, and two more on Thursday to look at Houston County, Alabama, and Calhoun County, Georgia.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis activated the Florida State Guard on Monday night to prepare for any storm-related impacts.

A number of schools were closed in the region and more than 140,000 customers were without power in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, according to the website.

The weather has already affected campaigning for Iowa's Jan. 15 precinct caucuses, where the snow is expected to be followed by frigid temperatures that could drift below zero degrees. It forced former President Donald Trump's campaign to cancel multiple appearances by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders and her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had been scheduled to court Iowa voters on Trump’s behalf Monday.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at Tuesday's briefing that winter storms continue to be a threat across the country.

"We are closely monitoring the weather, and we encourage all Americans to do the same," she said.

Near Cottonwood, Alabama, a small city near the Georgia and Florida borders, 81-year-old Charlotte Paschal was killed when her mobile home was tossed from its foundation, the Houston County coroner said. A suspected tornado had touched down in the area.

Police in Clayton County, south of Atlanta, say a man died during heavy rain when a tree fell on his car on a state highway in Jonesboro.

Heavy rain across Georgia stopped air traffic at Atlanta’s busy airport for a time Tuesday morning and caused flash flooding, blocking some lanes on freeways around Atlanta during the morning commute. More than 80 public school systems across Georgia called off classes entirely while others taught students online or delayed the start of in-person classes.

Rain and high winds extended into the nation's capital Tuesday night, forcing Vice President Kamala Harris’ aircraft to divert from Joint Base Andrews to Dulles International Airport near Washington when it encountered wind shear — a sudden shift in wind direction or speed — as Harris returned from a trip to Georgia.

In North Carolina, one person has died and two others were in critical condition after a suspected tornado struck a mobile home park in the town of Claremont, north of Charlotte, said Amy McCauley, a spokesperson for Catawba County. And in Rocky Mount, downed power lines shut down both directions of I-95, one of the nation's busiest highways, the North Carolina's Department of Transportation said in a statement

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency before the storm arrived. Some schools canceled classes or shut down early.

A possible tornado knocked down several old brick storefronts in downtown Bamberg, South Carolina, blocking the main intersection through the city about 60 miles south of Columbia. Thousands of bricks blocked U.S. 301, the main road through that part of the state, and about 40 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, said Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg, who represents the area.

In the Midwest, where a snowstorm started Monday, up to 12 inches of snow could blanket a broad area stretching from southeastern Colorado all the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. That includes western Kansas, eastern Nebraska, large parts of Iowa, northern Missouri and northwestern Illinois, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

In Des Moines, Iowa, Laura Burianov had nearly finished shoveling her driveway Tuesday morning. But with snow still falling, she acknowledged she likely would have to shovel again later in the day.

"It's going to get harder. I shoveled last night and you can’t really tell, but I can pretend that three less inches makes a difference," she said.

The storm dumped around 8 to 12 inches of snow across Kansas, eastern Nebraska and South Dakota, western Iowa, and southwestern Minnesota on Monday. In North Sioux City, South Dakota, the National Weather Service reported 15 inches of snow. Lower amounts fell over central Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Madison, Wisconsin, was under a winter storm warning until early Wednesday, with as much as 9 inches of snow and 40 mph winds on tap.

Poor road conditions contributed to a fatal crash early Tuesday in southeastern Wisconsin, Jefferson County Sheriff Paul Milbrath said in a news release. An SUV driver was killed following a head-on collision with a semitrailer on state Highway 18 around 5:40 a.m. The driver of the semitrailer was not hurt. Sheriff's Capt. Travis Maze said in a telephone interview that layers of slush and snow covered the center and fog lines on the highway.

In western Michigan, a 35-year-old woman died Tuesday after she lost control of her minivan on a slushy highway and it collided with an SUV, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office said. The ambulance taking her to a Grand Rapids hospital, where she was pronounced dead, was struck by another vehicle en route there, and a second ambulance was needed to finish the transport to the hospital.

Northwestern Illinois was also under a winter storm warning with forecasts calling for 7 to 12 inches of snow by early Wednesday.n The Chicago area as well as Gary, Indiana, were under winter storm advisories, with forecasts calling for up to 6 inches of snow and wind gusts of up to 30 mph.

It was the first major winter storm of the season for the Kansas City metro area in Kansas and Missouri, where the National Weather Service predicted 6 inches of snow by the time the storm moved on later Tuesday.

Whiteout conditions in central Nebraska closed a long stretch of Interstate 80, while Kansas closed Interstate 70 from the central city of Russell all the way west to the Colorado border. Several vehicles slid off I-70 in the northeastern part of the state, authorities said.

From the Midwest, the storm was expected to head east, bringing a combination of snow, rain and strong winds to the Northeast by Tuesday night, as well as concerns about flooding in areas such as New England, parts of which got more than a foot of snow Sunday.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy already declared a state of emergency as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, ahead of what’s expected to be heavy rain and wind that will exacerbate the effects of bad weather conditions since December. He encouraged people Monday not to underestimate the storm.

In New York City, officials began evacuating nearly 2,000 migrants who had been housed at a sprawling white tent complex at a former airport located in a remote corner of Brooklyn. An aide to New York City Mayor Eric Adams pointed to predicted wind speeds of more than 70 mph Tuesday night.

In western New York, an empty tractor trailer blew over on the state Thruway on Tuesday morning, temporarily blocking all westbound traffic, state police said. The state banned empty trucks and trailers on numerous major roadways.

In Maine, Gov. Janet Mills has delayed the opening of all state offices until noon Wednesday due to the storm.

Massachusetts electricity provider National Grid said they were prepared for possible hazardous wind gusts and heavy rains and have additional crews and personnel to respond to any power outages.

In parts of Arizona, a cold front brought below-freezing temperatures early Tuesday, with the National Weather Service reporting a minus-17 reading at the Snow Bowl in northern Arizona. In northeastern New Mexico, the state Department of Transportation said snowplows spent hours Monday afternoon clearing U.S. Highway 56 to free more than 25 stranded vehicles.