Deadly storms and wildfires swept across parts of the South and Midwest over the weekend, leaving at least 32 people dead and many more injured. The system began on Friday, spawning tornadoes in 11 states as it plowed through Arkansas, the South, Midwest, and Northeast. On the western side of the storm lines that developed on Friday, extremely dry conditions in Oklahoma combined with high winds to fuel several large wildfires that forced interstate closures and sent residents fleeing from their homes.
According to reports, Arkansas was among the first states hit by the severe weather on Friday when a tornado destroyed homes and businesses in Little Rock. At least five people were killed in Arkansas, including four deaths in the rural community of Wynne, about 50 miles west of Memphis, Tennessee. Tennessee recorded at least 15 deaths, including nine fatalities in McNairy County, east of Memphis. Meanwhile, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker traveled to Belvidere on Sunday to visit the Apollo Theatre, which partially collapsed as about 260 people were attending a heavy metal concert, resulting in at least one death. The governor said 48 others were treated in hospitals, with five in critical condition.
National Weather Service survey teams confirmed the presence of tornados in New Jersey and Delaware over the weekend and said on Monday that a tornado also touched down in Pennsylvania. The tornados were generated as a line of severe thunderstorms crossed the region on Saturday night. Forecasters said one EF-1 tornado with peak wind speeds of 95 to 105 mph touched down in Wrightstown and traveled almost 4 miles to Newtown in Bucks County. Four other storms were confirmed in New Jersey and one in Delaware, where a person was found dead in a heavily damaged home.
On the western side of the storm lines that developed on Friday, extremely dry conditions in Oklahoma combined with high winds to fuel several large wildfires that forced interstate closures and sent residents fleeing from their homes. The threat of fire danger remains high on Tuesday across portions of far western Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, northeast New Mexico, and far southeastern Colorado.
Nationwide, there were more than 800 severe weather reports over the weekend, including reports of hail, high winds, and tornadoes. The same conditions that fueled last week’s storms, an area of low pressure combined with strong southerly winds, will make conditions ideal for another round of severe weather on Tuesday into early Wednesday.
These conditions are what make the U.S. so prone to tornadoes and other severe storms. The authorities have advised the people to stay indoors and avoid traveling if possible during the severe weather warnings. The National Weather Service has also issued tornado watches and warnings for various states. The affected areas are still in the process of assessing the damage and rebuilding their communities.