Storm threat shifts after day of hail, wind in central US


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — More springtime storms are headed to parts of the Midwest and South on Wednesday, but forecasters said hail and strong winds are a bigger concern than tornadoes.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said an area stretching from New Orleans to central Illinois could see scattered storms with strong winds and hail on Wednesday. Severe thunderstorm watches have been issued for parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, where forecasters say wind gusts of up to 75 mph are possible.

But Wednesday’s forecast wasn’t as dire as Tuesday’s, when meteorologists warned that conditions were ripe for a severe weather outbreak.

In Texas, a 62-year-old woman was killed early Wednesday after a tree fell on her home in the Tomball area northwest of Houston, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said. In the northern part of the state, four people were hospitalized after their vehicles were caught up in an apparent tornado that hit late Tuesday, Howe Police Chief Carl Hudman said.

Hail as big as grapefruit fell in northern Kansas on Tuesday, while winds approaching hurricane force — 74 mph — raked communities from Nebraska and Missouri to Texas. Uprooted trees, downed power lines and roof damage were reported in parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Forecasters said last week that the nation could have seen significant tornadoes Tuesday, but that conditions weren’t right for the biggest storms. The Storm Prediction Center received just five unconfirmed reports of tornadoes — two in Texas and one each in Indiana, Kansas and Missouri.

Still, the hail and high winds were frightening enough.

Hail 4 inches in diameter fell northwest of Marysville, Kansas, and residents of Topeka, Kansas, eyed the sky nervously during rush hour after forecasters warned that a supercell thunderstorm could produce a tornado at any moment.

The core of the bad weather forecast shifts back to Oklahoma and Texas on Thursday and Friday, then to Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas on Saturday.

Ahead of Tuesday’s storms, some Oklahoma school districts either shuttered schools for the day or sent students home early, hoping they would remain safe.

In Fairview, George Eischen, 51, spent the morning moving vehicles off the lot at his Chevrolet dealership into his shop and showroom to protect them from hail — “the real enemy of the car dealer.”

Workers at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield, Missouri, did something similar with airplanes when the skies turned a “mean green” ahead of a line of storms.

“We were able to get most of the airplanes into hangars,” aviation director John Bales said.

Wednesday’s unsettled weather comes on the five-year anniversary of a tornado outbreak that killed more than 300 people in the South, mostly in Alabama.

___

Associated Press writers Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Daniel C. Houston in Oklahoma City; Jim Salter in St. Louis; and Bill Draper in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.

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