With the strength of an 'inland hurricane,' heavy winds and severe weather rattle the South

Brian Lada

Severe weather gripped the south-central United States on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, leaving thousands of residents across numerous states with a mess to clean up. For many of those residents, that clean up may have to begin in the dark as power outages blanket the region.

An intense line of severe thunderstorms, known as a squall line, sprawled across 500 miles and took aim at many major cities including Houston, New Orleans, Dallas, Oklahoma City and St. Louis.

The squall line spewed large hail and dealt damaging winds from southeastern Kansas and southwestern Missouri, through central and eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, northern Texas, and northern Louisiana.

An intense line of thunderstorms, known as a squall line, stretched from eastern Texas to western Mississippi early Wednesday morning. (AccuWeather)

One potential tornado from the night of severe weather was reported in Hammond, Louisiana. There were no injuries reported, but witnesses at the scene reported light structural damage in the area, according to the storm report.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center (SPC), over 200 high wind reports were filed on Tuesday along with 137 hail reports.

That packed punch of thunderstorms with heavy winds may have even reached the standard for a derecho. Derechos are often referred to as inland hurricanes due to the hurricanelike conditions, in terms of ferocious wind and torrential rain.

"The line of thunderstorms appears to have met the criteria for derecho with a steady concentration of high wind reports along a path of at least 240 miles from southeastern Kansas, eastern Oklahoma and northeastern Texas to southern Missouri, much of Arkansas and northern and western Louisiana," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

Those intense winds left over 300,000 customers without power across the region early Wednesday morning, with most of the outages occurring in Texas and Louisiana, according to PowerOutage.us.

The severe threat began with the first tornado watch on Tuesday afternoon, highlighting not only the risk for tornadoes, but also very large hail and intense wind gusts over part of the south-central United States. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, tornado sirens began blaring in the evening as the squall line unleashed blinding downpours and large hail across the region.

Over 100 miles to the southwest in Yukon, Olahoma, the severe storms arrived with hail as large as tennis balls, large enough to dent vehicles and possibly crack windows. Smaller hail was reported near downtown Oklahoma City, but the worst of the storm missed the center of the city.

Ominous clouds loom over Jenks, Oklahoma, on Tuesday evening as a tornado-warned storm tracked through the area. (Twitter/ @MattCoo24396976)

Heavy winds also downed many trees in rural areas, causing traffic hazards and furthering the power outages. In east Texas, a tree reportedly fell on a home in Rusk County while other large trees fell across roadways and on power lines, according to the Rusk County Office of Emergency Management.

Just one mile from Plano, Texas, the strongest wind speed of the storm line was recorded, a 78-mph gust.

Similarly strong winds were recorded at the Springfield Branson Airport in Missouri. Reports also say a tree fell on a house in Aurora, Missouri, while downed trees were reported in Battlefield, Missouri.

Behind the severe weather, Mother Nature put on a spectacular display of mammatus clouds. These unique, pouch-shaped type of clouds typically only appear on the underside of a severe thunderstorm. The setting sun added to the beauty of these clouds in Oklahoma, on Tuesday evening.

Mammatus clouds captured by the National Weather Service office in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Twitter/@NWStulsa)

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At the beginning of the sever weather, AccuWeather's Blake Naftel has been tracking a severe thunderstorm near Benson, Illinois, that has produced blinding downpours, penny-sized hail and at one point a wall cloud, but no tornado has been spotted.

A severe thunderstorm dumping heavy rain and hail near Benson, Illinois, late Tuesday afternoon. (AccuWeather/Blake Naftel)

After the last vestiges of this squall line rumble along the Gulf coast on Wednesday morning, the focus of the severe weather will shift east later Wednesday, rumbling across much of the Southeast. Similar to Tuesday's storms, damaging storms will have the potential to spawn isolated tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds.

As of Monday, there have been 583 preliminary tornadoes reported across the U.S. At this rate, 2020 is on pace to rank as one of the top years in terms of number of tornadoes.

Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.