Heavy snow expected in Texas; storm could spawn tornadoes

KEN MILLER and ACACIA CORONADO

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A winter storm moving across southwestern Texas on Wednesday could dump more than a foot (0.30 meters) of snow before moving eastward and possibly spawning tornadoes in parts of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi on New Year's Eve, according to weather forecasters.

Jeremy Grams, a forecaster with the National Weather Services’ Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said 12 to 18 inches (0.30 meters to 0.46 meters) of snow was possible west of the Pecos River in southwest Texas, with another 3 to 5 inches (0.13 meters) predicted for western Oklahoma by Thursday.

Tornadoes are possible as the cold air moving eastward with the storm collides with moisture and warmer temperatures from the Gulf of Mexico, Grams said.

“On the warm side of the system we have the chance for tornadoes from southeast Texas across most of Louisiana and at least into southern Mississippi,” Grams said.

Grams said a wintry mix of precipitation and a threat of tornadoes is uncommon — but not unheard of — this time of year.

The storm produced what Grams said was a likely a brief tornado in Corsicana, Texas, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Dallas shortly before noon Wednesday.

More than a dozen mobile homes were damaged in Corsicana, Navarro County officials said in a social media statement, but no injuries were reported. Two other homes were damaged by fallen trees.

The Navarro County Office of Emergency Management did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Grams said any tornadoes would likely be classified as EF2, with wind speeds of 111-135 mph (179-217 kph), or below, compared to violent tornadoes which he said are those rated EF4 and above with wind speeds of 166 mph (267. kph) and higher.

In Oklahoma, the state Department of Transportation reported wet and slushy roads on Interstate 40 in the central part of the state on Wednesday, and extending along I-44 to Tulsa. The state said salt and sand was being applied to make roadways less slick.

The city of Odessa, Texas, in the Permian Basic oil patch opened a winter weather shelter that would be available through Friday. Federal guidelines for social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19 will be enforced at the shelter, the city said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday placed several state agencies on standby ahead of the storm. Meanwhile, another storm system dropped heavy snow across the Upper Midwest and led to winter storm warnings for parts of Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Illinois.

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Miller reported from Oklahoma City.