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Storm threat shifts after day of hail, wind in central U.S.

🕐 3 min read

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Springtime storms developed in parts of the Midwest and South on Wednesday, with forecasters warning that hail and high winds would be a bigger concern than tornadoes.

Gusts to 75 mph were expected near Louisiana’s Gulf coast during a round of storms, and forecasters said 15 million people along the Mississippi River between Iowa and New Orleans had at least a slight chance to see severe weather at some point.

But expectations for Wednesday weren’t as dire as they had been for Tuesday, when meteorologists warned that conditions were ripe for a severe weather outbreak.

In Texas, a 62-year-old woman was killed early Wednesday after a tree fell on her home in the Tomball area northwest of Houston, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said. In the northern part of the state, four people were hospitalized after their vehicles were caught up in an apparent tornado that hit late Tuesday, Howe Police Chief Carl Hudman said.

The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado touched down Tuesday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where storms uprooted trees, snapped power poles and damaged roofs. In a preliminary assessment, the agency determined the damage less than a mile from where Interstate 44 crosses the Arkansas River was consistent with that of an EF1 tornado.

It also confirmed two more relatively weak tornadoes within 30 miles of Oklahoma City: an EF1 tornado near Luther and an EF0 tornado near Mustang.

Hail as big as grapefruit fell in northern Kansas on Tuesday, while winds approaching hurricane force — 74 mph — raked communities from Nebraska and Missouri to Texas. Uprooted trees, downed power lines and roof damage were reported in parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

An estimated 6 to 8 inches of rain fell Tuesday evening and overnight near Deshler, Nebraska, prompting officials to evacuate a nursing home and assisted living facility. About 45 patients and residents from Parkview Haven Nursing Home and Meadowlark Heights Assisted Living spent the night at Deshler High School because of high-water worries. They returned Wednesday.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said last week the nation could have seen significant tornadoes Tuesday, but it turned out as the weather developed that conditions weren’t right for the biggest storms.

By Wednesday afternoon, the Storm Prediction Center had received at least six unconfirmed reports of tornadoes — two in Texas, two in Kansas and one each in Missouri and Indiana. National Weather Service spokeswoman Keli Pirtle said survey teams were assessing the incidents.

Still, the hail and high winds were frightening enough.

Hail 4 inches in diameter fell northwest of Marysville, Kansas, and residents of Topeka, Kansas, eyed the sky nervously during rush hour after forecasters warned that a supercell thunderstorm could produce a tornado at any moment.

The core of the bad weather forecast shifts back to Oklahoma and Texas on Thursday and Friday, then to Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas on Saturday.

Ahead of Tuesday’s storms, some Oklahoma school districts either shuttered schools for the day or sent students home early, hoping they would remain safe.

In Fairview, George Eischen, 51, spent the morning before the storms moving vehicles off the lot at his Chevrolet dealership into his shop and showroom to protect them from hail — “the real enemy of the car dealer.”

Workers at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield, Missouri, did something similar with airplanes when the skies turned a “mean green” ahead of a line of storms.

“We were able to get most of the airplanes into hangars,” aviation director John Bales said.

Wednesday’s unsettled weather comes on the five-year anniversary of a tornado outbreak that killed more than 300 people in the South, mostly in Alabama.

Associated Press writers Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Daniel C. Houston in Oklahoma City; Jim Salter in St. Louis; and Bill Draper in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.

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