WEATHER

At least 21 dead in Memorial Day weekend storms that devastated several US states

May 27, 2024, 2:57 PM

A man looks at a damaged car after a tornado hit the day before, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Valley Vi...

A man looks at a damaged car after a tornado hit the day before, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Valley View, Texas. Powerful storms left a wide trail of destruction Sunday across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas after obliterating homes and destroying a truck stop where drivers took shelter during the latest deadly weather to strike the central U.S. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

TULSA, Okla. (AP) A series of powerful storms swept over the central and southern U.S. over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, killing at least 21 people and leaving a wide trail of destroyed homes, businesses and power outages.

The destructive storms caused deaths in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kentucky and were just north of an oppressive, early season heat wave setting records from south Texas to Florida.

Forecasters said the severe weather could shift to the East Coast later Monday and warned millions of people outdoors for the holiday to watch the skies.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who earlier declared a state of emergency, said at a Monday press conference that four people had died in four different counties.

The death toll of 21 also included seven deaths in Cooke County, Texas, from a Saturday tornado that tore through a mobile home park, officials said, and eight deaths across Arkansas.

Two people died in Mayes County, Oklahoma, which is east of Tulsa, authorities said. The injured included guests at an outdoor wedding.

The latest community left with shattered homes and no power was the tiny Kentucky community of Charleston, which took a direct hit Sunday night from a tornado that the governor said appeared to be on the ground for 40 miles (64 kilometers).

‘A big mess’

“It’s a big mess,” said Rob Linton, who lives in Charleston and is the fire chief of nearby Dawson Springs, hit by a tornado in 2021. “Trees down everywhere. Houses moved. Power lines are down. No utilities whatsoever – no water, no power.”

Further east, some rural areas of Hopkins County hit by the 2021 tornado around the community of Barnsley were damaged again Sunday night, said county Emergency Management Director Nick Bailey.

“There were a lot of people that were just getting their lives put back together and then this,” Bailey said. “Almost the same spot, the same houses and everything.”

Beshear has traveled to the area where his father grew up several times for ceremonies where people who lost everything were given the keys to their new homes.

The visits came after a series of tornadoes on a terrifying night in December 2021 killed 81 people in Kentucky.

“It could have been much worse,” Beshear said of the Memorial Day weekend storms. “The people of Kentucky are very weather aware with everything we’ve been through.”

Thousands without power

More than 500,000 customers across the eastern U.S. were without power Monday afternoon, including about 170,000 in Kentucky. Twelve states reported at least 10,000 outages, according to PowerOutage.us.

The area on highest alert for severe weather Monday is a broad swath of the eastern U.S., from Alabama to New York.

President Joe Biden sent condolences to the families who had people killed. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is on the ground conducting damage assessments and he has contacted governors to see what federal support they might need..

It’s been a grim month of tornadoes and severe weather in the nation’s midsection.

Tornadoes in Iowa last week left at least five people dead and dozens injured. Storms killed eight people in Houston earlier this month. The severe thunderstorms and deadly twisters have spawned during a historically bad season for tornadoes, at a time when climate change contributes to the severity of storms around the world. April had the second-highest number of tornadoes on record in the country.

Harold Brooks, a senior scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, said a persistent pattern of warm, moist air is to blame for the string of tornadoes over the past two months.

That warm moist air is at the northern edge of a heat dome bringing temperatures typically seen at the height of summer to late May.

The heat index — a combination of air temperature and humidity to indicate how the heat feels to the human body — is expected to reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) in parts of south Texas on Monday. Record highs are forecast for Brownsville, San Antonio and Dallas.

Miami set a record high of 96 F (35.5 C) on Sunday.

For more information on recent tornado reports, see The Associated Press Tornado Tracker.

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At least 21 dead in Memorial Day weekend storms that devastated several US states