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Deadly severe weather roars through several states, spawning potential tornadoes

The Columbian
Published: April 2, 2024, 12:35pm

Thousands of homes and businesses were without power Tuesday as severe weather roared through several states, causing at least one death and spawning possible tornadoes.

In West Virginia, about 140,000 customers were without electricity Tuesday afternoon, or about 14% of all customers tracked in the state by poweroutage.us. Meanwhile, a spring snowstorm was expected to drop more than a foot of snow in Wisconsin.

One of the hardest-hit areas was northeastern Oklahoma, where a strong weather system containing heavy rains produced three suspected tornadoes. The storms were also blamed for the death of a 46-year-old homeless woman in Tulsa who died inside a drainage pipe, police said.

Tulsa Fire Department spokesperson Andy Little said the woman’s boyfriend told authorities the two had gone to sleep at the entrance of the drainage pipe and were awakened by the flood waters. National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Darby said up to 1.5 inches (3.81 centimeters) of rain fell in Tulsa in about one hour before moving northeastward out of the state.

“It wasn’t a whole lot. But when it came down it was pretty rapid,” Darby said.

In Ohio, firefighters came to the rescue of two people who were trapped under a bridge early Tuesday when the waters of an Ohio river began rising, and forecasters warned more severe weather was headed to the area.

The two people were sleeping under the bridge around 8:45 a.m. when the Scioto River started to rise, the Columbus Fire Department reported. While the pair were never directly in the water, the flooding prevented them from returning to the shore, so a fire department boat was sent to rescue them.

No injuries were reported.

In southern Ohio, Mindy Broughton, 49, rushed into her mobile home Tuesday morning as the hail began pouring down and the winds picked up at the RV Park where she has lived near Hanging Rock for two years.

Broughton and her finance hunkered down as the mobile home quickly began rocking. Broughton said her finance used his body to shield her as the winds raged outside.

“I said I think we may die today,” she said.

In a matter of seconds, the winds died down. When Broughton opened her mobile home door, she saw the devastation left behind. The RV Park was littered with debris and overturned RVs. Luckily, Broughton said there was no one inside the overturned mobile homes that could be seen in her Facebook Live video.

One neighbor told Broughton that he had seen a funnel cloud. The National Weather Service of Charleston, West Virginia, had issued a tornado warning for the Mid-Ohio valley Tuesday morning.

After Tuesday’s storm, Broughton headed to a nearby American Legion building. She said she’s not sticking around in case the weather worsens.

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Severe storms also swept through far southwestern Indiana on Tuesday morning, toppling trees and causing power outages, leading several local school districts to cancel the day’s classes. More than 18,000 homes and businesses were without power shortly before noon Tuesday, including in Vanderburgh County, home to Evansville, Indiana’s third-largest city.

Residents in Wisconsin were bracing for a spring snowstorm that forecasters warned could dump more than a foot of snow in eastern parts of the state, including the Green Bay area. The state’s top election official, Meagan Wolfe, urged residents planning to vote in Tuesday’s presidential primaries to consider voting earlier in the day, depending on their local forecast, to avoid travel woes.

The National Weather Service said snowfall totals could range from 4 to 8 inches over central Wisconsin and 8 to 14 inches over eastern Wisconsin, while wind gusts of 30 mph to 50 mph will create very limited visibility and make travel difficult at best. Meteorologist Scott Cultice with the weather service’s Green Bay office said the storm will bring “a very heavy, wet snow” to central and eastern Wisconsin, but is nothing unusual for early April in the state.

“Just three weeks ago we were in the 70s, so that kind of got people thinking spring is right around the corner — and here we’re in April and we’re getting a major snowstorm,” Cultice said. “As people say, `That’s springtime in Wisconsin.' ”

In West Virginia, a storm blew off part of a vacant building’s roof in downtown Charleston, littering the street with bricks and closing the roadway to traffic Tuesday afternoon. Trees were dislodged from the earth by the roots and lay in roads, lawns and in some cases, on top of cars.

Gov. Jim Justice said his team is monitoring damage across the state,.

“We know power lines, trees, and debris are in the roadways, and I urge everyone to proceed with caution,” he wrote on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency after severe storms swept through the state Tuesday morning and another round was forecast later in the day. The storms brought tornado warnings, heavy rain and wind along with hail and lightning.

“We have reports of substantial damage to a number of structures – and thankfully, as of right now we are not aware of any fatalities,” Beshear said in a statement. “We need all Kentuckians to stay weather aware as we brace for more severe weather throughout the afternoon and evening.”

Due to pending weather conditions, all executive branch state office buildings were closed Tuesday afternoon. Some universities around the state also canceled in-person classes Tuesday afternoon and evening because of the impending weather.

Forecasters issued a tornado watch for northeast Mississippi, north Alabama, middle Tennessee and parts of western Tennessee that runs until 9 p.m. Central Standard Time.

The utility company in Memphis, Tennessee, reported that about 40,000 homes and businesses lost power Tuesday morning after an electric substation was struck by lighting, which then affected two other substations. Memphis, Light, Gas and Water said power to the substations was restored by 11 a.m. Central Standard Time. The company reported about 1,900 outages on Tuesday afternoon.

The storm was expected to move into New England Wednesday night into Thursday, with forecasts of 12 to 18 inches of snow in parts of New Hampshire and Maine and lesser amounts in other areas, the National Weather Service said. Wind gusts could reach 50 mph (80 kph) in some places, bringing the possibility of power outages, the service said.

Associated Press writers Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, Rick Callahan in Indianapolis, Leah Willingham in Charleston, West Virginia, John Raby in Cross Lanes, West Virginia, Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee, and Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed to this report.