A destructive tornado struck a Texas Panhandle city Thursday, killing at least three people, injuring dozens more, and causing widespread damage as another round of severe storms moved across parts of the southern and central Plains.
The National Weather Service in Amarillo, Texas, confirmed Thursday evening that a tornado hit the Panhandle city of Perryton. Perryton Fire Chief Paul Dutcher told reporters that three people were killed in the storm.
"There are still reports of ongoing rescues," weather service meteorologist Luigi Meccariello said.
Following a day of violent weather in the South, the Storm Prediction Center said widespread severe storms that include damaging wind gusts, large hail, and a few tornadoes were expected Thursday. Hailstones greater than 2 inches in diameter and strong wind gusts will be possible along the more intense parts of a fast-moving line of storms.
By Thursday night, the weather front was moving southeast across Oklahoma and the weather service said a second round of storms would move through that state and portions of Texas. Nearly 50,000 customers were without electricity in Texas and Oklahoma on Thursday night, according to poweroutage.us.
A tornado watch was issued Thursday afternoon for north Texas and much of Oklahoma, including both the Oklahoma City and Dallas/Fort Worth metro areas. A tornado watch means weather conditions are ripe for tornadoes to form.
In western Florida, one person was reported dead Thursday night after a tree fell on their home as severe thunderstorms and a confirmed tornado moved through Escambia County. The weather service also warned of flooded roads across Pensacola and urged motorists to stay off the roadways.
On Wednesday, damaging winds, destructive hail and a few tornadoes toppled trees, damaged buildings and blew cars off a highway as powerful storms crossed the South from Texas to Georgia. One man was struck by lightning in Troup County, Georgia. He survived the strike with only minor injuries, WSB-TV said.
Current US weather watches, warnings map
Texas city sees severe damages from tornado
Perryton officials confirmed three people were dead and more than 50 people were hospitalized during a news conference Thursday night.
Ochiltree County Sheriff Terry Bouchard said there will be a curfew from midnight to 6 a.m. Friday due to the widespread destruction and downed utility lines. Perryton, a city of nearly 8,300, had several agencies in nearby cities and counties send emergency personnel to assist with tornado damage.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement that several state resources, including the Division of Emergency Management, were deployed "to meet urgent life-safety needs" in Perryton.
Dutcher told ABC 7 that at least 30 trailers were damaged or destroyed and firefighters were rescuing residents from the rubble. Dutcher said a person was killed in a mobile home park that took a “direct hit” from a tornado.
Ochiltree General Hospital in Perryton on Facebook advised residents who were walking and wounded to go to the clinic. "All others to the hospital ER," the hospital said in its post.
Kelly Judice, the hospital's interim CEO, said the hospital was "slammed" by patients with a range of injuries, including about 10 in critical condition who were transferred to other hospitals.
“We have seen somewhere between 50 and 100 patients,” Judice told the Associated Press.
Footage and images from the scene showed flattened homes and downed trees and power lines. According to Xcel Energy, the whole city was without power and facilities were de-energized for safety purposes.
"Transmission lines supplying the city with electricity have sustained damage and many lower voltage distribution lines are down in the city," Xcel spokesperson Wes Reeves said in a statement. "Personnel are working to ensure the safety of Perryton residents and first responders. An estimated time of restoration is not yet available."
According to AccuWeather, Thursday's tornado since is the first to track through Perryton since 2008.
Baseball-sized hail and 80 mph wind gusts
Much of Oklahoma was under a "moderate" risk for severe storms Thursday. That's level 4 out of 5 on the severe storm risk scale. The National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, warned of a "significant severe weather" outbreak.
People "should be prepared for hail up to the size of baseballs and winds up to 80 mph with the stronger storms," the weather service said.
There's also the chance of a derecho forming across the region, forecasters warned. Derechos can pack lethal gusts in excess of 100 mph – hurricane strength – across a front stretching for many miles, and last for hours.
— NWS Storm Prediction Center (@NWSSPC) June 15, 2023
In addition to the Plains, "a severe threat will also exist today across parts of the Southeast, and in parts of the Midwest," the Storm Prediction Center said.
In the Southeast, there are "additional chances for flash flooding and severe weather from the central/eastern Gulf Coast to parts of southern Georgia and northern Florida," the weather service said.
And in the Midwest, there is a "marginal" risk of severe weather in Ohio and Michigan, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
Friday's forecast: Another round of storms likely
The active weather will not conclude Thursday. Another round of intense thunderstorms are possible on Friday, forecasters said.
"Scattered strong to severe thunderstorms will be possible Friday through Friday night from the central High Plains southeastward to parts of Florida and southern Georgia, and over portions of the Mid-Atlantic region," the Storm Prediction Center said.
AccuWeather added that "within these zones, thunderstorms are expected to bring not just torrential downpours but strong, damaging winds with gusts above 75 mph, large damaging hail, frequent lightning, and localized tornadoes."
Storm damage reports from Wednesday's storm
Record-breaking heat in Texas and Deep South
A mid-June heat wave continues to scorch much of the South on Thursday, with the worst of the heat in south Texas, where it could feel as hot as 120 degrees, the weather service said. "Dangerously hot temperatures and high humidity" will be the main weather story Thursday and over the next few days across much of the Lone Star State.
Sultry heat indices of up to 110 degrees will also extend east into southern Louisiana. In Texas, heat advisories are in place in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. In Louisiana, cities under heat advisories include Lake Charles, Alexandria, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Some high temperature records could be set in a few areas. In addition, the heat wave isn't expected to let up and is likely to continue into next week.
"Residents and visitors within regions impacted by excessive heat are urged to follow proper heat safety; such as staying hydrated, limiting time outdoors, and checking in on any vulnerable friends, family, and neighbors," the weather service said.
— Breaking Weather by AccuWeather (@breakingweather) June 15, 2023
Contributing: Alex Driggars, Amarillo Globe-News; Jim Little, Pensacola News Journal; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Severe storms forecast: 3 dead and dozens injured after Texas tornado