Wicked spring storms batter central United States, killing four

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 March, 2017, 3:43am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 March, 2017, 7:28am

A storm system that’s blamed for the death of a truck driver in Oklahoma barrelled eastward Wednesday, putting 17 million people in the central United States at risk for bad weather, forecasters said.

Three storm chasers also died Tuesday in a collision as they raced toward a tornado-warned storm in West Texas, authorities said.

The storms that struck Texas and Oklahoma late Tuesday brought tornadoes, tennis ball-sized hail and powerful winds, but no widespread damage was reported. It’s just the beginning of what’s expected to be a stormy week in Tornado Alley and in parts of the South.

The Storm Prediction Centre in Norman, Oklahoma, said an area stretching from Louisiana to central Missouri, including all of Arkansas, could see very large hail, strong tornadoes and powerful winds Wednesday. Earlier in the day, forecasters issued tornado warnings in Houston, though no substantial damage was reported.

Roofs and walls were ripped away early Wednesday from homes in Rockwall, northeast of Dallas, and the city’s mayor, Jim Pruitt, said one person suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Forecasters said the storms could intensify Thursday as the system moves past the Mississippi River.

The severe-weather risk Thursday is moderate — the second-highest classification from the Storm Prediction Centre.

Forecasters said they expect “an active severe weather event” Thursday in an area stretching from New Orleans to Cincinnati. Forecasters say the biggest risk Thursday for severe storms is in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee.

In Oklahoma, the truck driver was killed Tuesday night after strong winds pushed his rig off the interstate in El Reno, outside Oklahoma City, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Forecasters confirmed a 95 mph (150 kph) wind gusts in the area when the crash occurred.

In Texas, the three storm chasers — including two who were contractors for The Weather Channel — were killed in a collision at a remote intersection near the town of Spur, about 55 miles (90 kilometres) southeast of Lubbock.

The channel said in a statement that Kelley Williamson and Randy Yarnall were “beloved members of the weather community” who had worked as contractors for the channel. The Texas Department of Public Safety said the two died Tuesday along with another storm chaser, 25-year-old Corbin Lee Jaeger of Peoria, Arizona. Williamson and Yarnall were both from Cassville, Missouri.

Department of Public Safety Sgt. John Gonzalez says a Chevrolet Suburban driven by Williamson ran a stop sign and slammed into a Jeep driven by Jaeger. Yarnall was a passenger in the Suburban. All three were killed instantly. Tornadoes had been reported nearby at the time of the crash and heavy rain had been reported in the area.