More storms are expected today in the central U.S., where powerful thunderstorms and tornadoes have killed at least seven people in the past two days.
Tornadoes have struck in at least six states, including one that killed six people near Harrisburg, Illinois, according to Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, Maryland.
One person was killed and four injured in Barry, Missouri, yesterday, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
“There’s a lot of areas that can have severe thunderstorms today,” Vaccaro said by telephone. “Possibly anywhere from Ohio down to North Carolina, but the bull’s-eye of where it could be the strongest would be parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and the northern fringes of Mississippi, Alabama and western North Carolina.”
Thunderstorms and tornadoes were the deadliest type of natural disaster in the U.S. in 2011, killing at least 552 people and causing $25 billion in insured losses, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York.
From 1991 to 2010, tornadoes caused 30 percent of all catastrophic losses in the U.S., second only to hurricanes, which accounted for 44 percent, according to the institute.
Tornado watches are now in effect in Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee, meaning the destructive storms have the potential to form, according to the National Weather Service.
The tornado that struck Harrisburg is believed to be an EF- 4, the second most-powerful on the scale, with top winds of 170 miles (275 kilometers) per hour, according to the weather service. It is the third EF-4 to hit Illinois since 1950, Vaccaro said.
The tornadoes are being spawned by the same system that has prompted winter storm watches and warnings from North Dakota to Maine and is delaying air traffic along the East Coast from Philadelphia to Boston.
“This is a classic, mature winter storm,” Vaccaro said. “We have cold and snow across the northern fringe and severe thunderstorms and tornadoes in the south.”
Weather-related air traffic delays ranging from 36 minutes at New York’s La Guardia Airport to more than two hours in Philadelphia have been reported today, according to the Federal Aviation Administration website. Delays have also been reported in Boston, Washington and Newark and at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, according to the FAA.
Worcester Regional Airport in Massachusetts was closed at 4 p.m., according to the FAA.
Boston is expected to receive 3 to 6 inches of snow from the storm, which will bring rain to New York, according to the weather service.
Montreal may receive 6 to 8 inches, according to Environment Canada.
A tornado tore through the country-music resort town of Branson, Missouri, overnight, damaging a motel, restaurant and knocking power poles, according to storm center.
In addition to tornadoes, wind gusts of more than 60 mph have been recorded across Kentucky and blamed for destroying buildings, knocking down trees and dropping hail the size of a U.S. 25-cent piece, according to the storm center.
A second storm is expected to sweep through the region the day after tomorrow, which may spawn another round of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, Vaccaro said.
“This is the time of the year that we start seeing the threat of severe weather becoming more common and more widespread,” Vaccaro said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at email@example.com; Lynn Doan in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at email@example.com