Tornadoes hit southern U.S.; snowstorms bury Colorado and Nebraska
Debris lies on the ground after a storm in Collinsville, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star)
Emily Wagster and Josh Funk, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, February 3, 2016 2:44AM EST
JACKSON, Miss. - Tornadoes touched down in Mississippi and Alabama as thunderstorms swept through the area Tuesday, while a powerful snowstorm buried parts of Colorado and Nebraska in more than a foot of snow before crawling into the Upper Midwest.
Greg Flynn, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said a confirmed tornado was reported just before 3:30 p.m. in eastern Newton and Lauderdale counties, largely rural areas in the eastern part of the state. Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said the storm damaged homes, toppled trees and knocked out power.
In Alabama, the National Weather Service in Birmingham reported a "confirmed large and destructive tornado" on the ground near the city of Aliceville, about 45 miles west of Tuscaloosa. Minor injuries were reported.
Later, in west Tennessee, high winds damaged several homes and school buildings in Crockett County. Public schools there were to be closed Wednesday as officials surveyed the damage. Law enforcement officials believed a tornado had passed through, but Weather Service meteorologists in Memphis said late Wednesday they couldn't confirm a touchdown, The Jackson Sun reported.
The combination of snow in one part of the country and severe thunderstorms in another isn't unusual when a powerful system moves across the country, said Greg Carbin with the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center.
"February can feature some exciting dynamics in the atmosphere," Carbin said. "This system we've had our eye on since it was in the Pacific."
The weather system that blew in from California steadily dumped snow on the Denver area Monday and continued overnight. Heavy snowfall and powerful winds on Tuesday knocked out power, prompt schools and businesses to close, and triggered flight cancellations across a swath of states from Colorado to northern Michigan.
Parts of major interstates were closed in eastern Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado and Kansas throughout the day.
"No one is really on the road," said Dean Habhab, who manages a truck stop in Iowa, where Democrats and Republicans gathered for caucuses Monday night. Habhab said he couldn't see more than a half-mile outside his Sioux City location.
After some early cancellations at Des Moines International Airport, flights were running as scheduled by late Tuesday morning, airport officials said. All the candidates made it out, beginning the weeklong trek to the New Hampshire primary.
Delivering the mail in such bad weather stinks, said letter carrier Mark Rettele from his post office in Ralston, Nebraska, which he reached after a perilous 30-minute drive from his home seven miles away.
"There are parts of my route I won't be able to get to until tomorrow or possibly the day after," Rettele said.
In Nebraska, the brunt of the storm dropped more than a foot of snow on areas to the north and west of Omaha. The wind created drifts several feet deep, and thunderclaps could be heard amid the snowfall.
Greg Dial with the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center said warm air from the Gulf of Mexico kept the snow at bay farther south and was bringing unusually high winter temperatures to many states. The temperature in Evansville, Indiana, for example, was forecast to peak at 69 degrees on Tuesday.
Associated Press reporters also contributing to this report were Colleen Slevin in Denver; Dirk Lammers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri; and Nelson Lampe and Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska.