Tornadoes. Large hail. Violent wind gusts.
A large swath of the central United States braced for all three as meteorologists predicted the type of weather that wreaks havoc, and can even be deadly.
By late Saturday afternoon, the National Weather Service had issued tornado watches in portions of six states: Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas — leaving millions potentially in the crosshair.
The day’s first tornado — confirmed to have been in Eastland County, Texas, early Saturday evening — was short-lived, but destructive, according to CNN meteorologist Sean Morris.
The National Weather Service reported damaged homes and Phillip Arthur, chief of the fire department, told CNN that there are downed power lines and road blockages. Arthur said there have been preliminary reports of missing people, but no further details were immediately available.
Two tornadoes were confirmed in eastern Colorado at 4:27 p.m. MT (6:27 p.m. ET). The National Weather Service recorded one near Eads, or 20 miles south of Kit Carson, moving to the northeast at 35 mph. A second was recorded six miles north of Karval, or 31 miles south of Limon, moving north at 25 mph.
The tornado watch for eastern Colorado, western Kansas and southwestern Nebraska was issued until 9 p.m. (11 p.m. ET), a time when tornadoes are likely with hail up to 2 inches in diameter and isolated wind gusts up to 70 mph, it said.
The tornado watch it issued for portions of central and southern Oklahoma, as well as northern and central Texas, was effective until 9 p.m. (10 p.m. ET).
‘Perfect Playing Field’
CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam explained that the system is the result of the frigid, dry air covering the northwest butting into an even larger mass of warm air rising up from the Gulf of Mexico laden with unstable moisture. On one side, overnight lows plunge into the low 20s, where it’s snowing in some places; on the other, daytime highs push into the 80s, while thunderstorms rumble by. A low pressure area is churning in between them.
“That gives us the perfect playing field for severe weather across the central Plains States,” Van Dam said. Expect tornadoes — some life-threatening and long-lasting. Also, expect flash floods.
The sun’s heat on top of clouds energizes thunderstorms, Van Dam said.
Scattered severe thunderstorms capable of very large hail, tornadoes and damaging winds are expected in the watch area through this evening, the weather service said.
A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms in and close to the watch area.
Earlier this week, super cells in the air mass collision zone spun out dozens of tornadoes, according to reports coming into the weather service. Thunderstorms doused Oklahoma and pelted it with hailstones the size of baseballs. The governor declared a state of emergency.
And the state is in the cross hairs again over the weekend.
About 24 million Americans are under varying degrees of risk of extreme weather, and the tornado risk stretches from southern Texas into Nebraska. Thunderstorms are possible over about half of the country.