Severe weather worries have once again proved to be worth the fright in the southern U.S. after storms fired to life on Friday afternoon and tore across the South into Saturday morning.
The stormy conditions continued throughout Saturday as thunderstorms worked their way to Florida, where heavy rain and winds disrupted major events and reached near-historic speeds.
Reports of strong winds and hail continued through the day on Sunday in Florida. Over 200 flights were canceled in the state, according to FlightAware.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), a wind-related fatality occurred in Spring Hill, Florida, on Sunday after a tree fell on a car and electrocuted the person inside.
One fatality was also reported in Louisiana, as strong winds sent a tree toppling onto a mobile home near Blanchard, Louisiana, on Friday evening, claiming the life of a 48-year-old man, the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office confirmed to AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell.
Neighbors of the victim told Wadell that the storms had been nearby and that winds at the time of the tragedy had been notably strong.
St. Landry Parish President Jessie Bellard told AccuWeather National Reporter Kim Leoffler one person was killed and seven others injured from the tornado in the area. A damage survey conducted on Saturday by the NWS office in Lake Charles, Louisiana, confirmed an EF3 tornado with estimated peak wind speeds of 140 mph had torn through the area.
On Saturday, Loeffler reported from Bolton Road in Palmetto, Louisiana, where cars where left upside down and debris was scattered throughout the town. The same EF3 tornado that took the life of one person and injured seven others, awakened resident Eva Council and her husband.
"We heard the wind coming strong and my husband said 'Okay, let's move' and so we cut across and came in here," Council said, standing amid the debris of her badly damaged home. "Glass was coming in from the door right there and we could hear as everything was starting to crumble."
Despite the Council's roof being ripped off, the couple escaped to the bathroom where they safely waited out the storm in the bath tub.
Eva Council stands in the midst of her badly damaged home where she and her husband waited out the severe storms on Friday night. (AccuWeather / Kim Loeffler)
"Everything just crumbled around us, but we were okay," she said. "The only thing I remember thinking was ‘We trust you Lord, no matter what happens.'"
Those winds pushed eastward on Saturday and left similarly brutal impacts on businesses, homes and events in the state of Florida.
In Jacksonville, winds reached a peak of 60 mph on Saturday afternoon according to recordings taken at Jacksonville International Airport, shattering the previous daily record wind gust from 1956. The 60-mph recording was the second-strongest gust in state history for the month of April, only eclipsed by a 67 mph recording in 1992.
On Saturday evening, the ongoing thunderstorms forced the evacuation of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, where the WWE is hosting its annual Wrestlemania event outdoors. The steady rain and threat of lightning forced fans in attendance to be temporarily evacuated an hour before the wrestling was set to begin.
Farther north, in the Florida panhandle, a possible tornado caused widespread damage in Panama City on Saturday as well.
On Facebook, the city reported damage to a house and Blu Convenient Store on Front Beach Road and Wells Street. At least three people escaped from these structures with minor injuries. A survey team from the NWS office in Tallahassee, Florida, confirmed the touchdown of three tornadoes in Bay County on Saturday. The strongest of these twisters was rated an EF2 with estimated peak wind speeds of 125 mph. One additional EF1 tornado was confirmed to have touched down in neighboring Walton County on Saturday.
By Saturday evening, shortly before 8 p.m. local time, 45,000 Florida residents were without power due to the conditions, according to PowerOutage.us. By 2 a.m. local time on Sunday, only 10,000 Florida residents and 10,000 Arkansas residents remained without power, while nearly all power had been restored to those impacted in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
The towering storms originally erupted in eastern Oklahoma, western Arkansas and northeastern Texas on Friday afternoon and evening, producing fierce, damaging wind gusts and widespread hail.
In Texas, hailstones up to 3.0 inches in diameter --larger than a baseball -- plummeted to earth. Over 200 reports of hail poured in from across the South Friday and Friday night.
Thousands of residents across Louisiana and Mississippi also saw their power flicker out as the storms moved in later Friday evening. By Saturday morning, power outages skyrocketed to more than 115,000 customers, collectively, from Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi at one point.
Flooding rainfall also became a large issue rather quickly across parts of the South that had already been inundated with rounds of drenching rain since early last month. At one point early Saturday morning, nearly half a million people were under flash flood warnings across the southern tier of Mississippi.
Across southern Mississippi, widespread reports of 1.75 to 3.25 inches of rainfall were recorded in just a six-hour period from late Friday evening into early Saturday morning. In some of the worst flooding instances reported across the area, floodwaters could be seen submerging the bottom-third of cars.
This radar image, captured very early Saturday morning on April 10, 2021, shows strong-to-severe storms tearing across portions of the South. (AccuWeather)
In addition to damaging wind gusts, large hail and torrential downpours, as Friday night progressed, the threat for tornadoes increased.
On Friday evening, the NWS office in Jackson, Mississippi, confirmed at least one tornado was on the ground east of Jackson. A survey team on Saturday confirmed that this EF0 tornado was on the ground for approximately 11 miles. Just a few hours later another tornado touched down in the southern portion of the state. An EF1 tornado with estimated peak wind speeds of 105 mph was on the ground for just over 10 minutes in Marion County, Mississippi. Thankfully, no injuries or fatalities were reported with these storms.
Farther west, a report from the Arkansas State Police on Friday evening detailed a funnel cloud spotted west of Hope, Arkansas, in the southwestern portion of the state. This funnel cloud was later confirmed to be associated with an EF1 tornado that touched down briefly in the area, just before midnight.
Shortly after midnight CDT, more than 3 million people across portions of Louisiana and Mississippi were placed under a tornado watch as feisty storms continued to explode across the area. Just two hours later, another tornado watch was issued and an additional 2 million people across southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle were placed on high alert for destructive storms.
While there was initially concern that Friday night's storms could develop into an intense derecho, AccuWeather forecasters say it is unlikely the designation will be reached. A derecho is a swift-moving complex of thunderstorms that produces extensive wind damage over hundreds of miles.
"Since two storm complexes ended up developing, it is unlikely such a lengthy path of damage reports will be attributed to one complex to meet the criteria for a derecho," AccuWeather Meteorologist Renee Duff said.
Regardless of the official designation, wind damage was the norm across much of the southern U.S. through Friday night, with nearly 100 reports across the area. Tree branches and loose debris were flung through the air by strong winds, damaging cars, homes and businesses alike.
As the storms continued to set their sights farther east on Saturday, damage was reported across the Florida panhandle. Residents and those attempting to enjoy spring break in Panama City, Florida, took to social media to share videos of a waterspout turned land-spout.
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