Storms packing quarter-size hail and powerful winds knocked out power to thousands of people early Wednesday.
Severe weather warnings were in effect for an area roughly bordered by New Orleans and Jacksonville, Fla., to the south and Pittsburgh and Baltimore to the north, according to The Weather Channel.
“We’ve had some damage, some severe thunderstorms and even some tornadoes,” The Weather Channel’s Chad Burke said.
In Memphis, Tenn., more than 13,000 customers lost power as high winds tore down power lines and at least two tornado warnings were issued in the area, according to the National Weather Service.
Up to four inches of rain fell in Memphis in a three-hour span early Wednesday, and another inch or more was expected, the NWS said.
In Arlington, Tenn., downed power lines sparked a fast-spreading grass fire that caused the evacuation of a small mental-health facility, Arlington Fire Department Lt. Chad Wiseman said.
“The wind was pushing everything really fast,” Wiseman said, adding that gusts reached 50 mph as the fire was burning. “The wind feeds everything. The wind will turn a little grass fire into something that was shooting 15- or 20-foot flames in the air. It looked pretty scary.”
The fire was brought under control within an hour.
Just after 4 a.m. ET, the squall line was bearing down on central Tennessee and Kentucky, and tornado warnings had been issued in Nashville and Louisville and much of their surrounding areas.
By 4:35 a.m. ET, three tornadoes had been reported along the squall line, and there were 205 official reports of severe weather. according live updates posted on weather.com.
A number of factors have helped build the storm system. Unseasonably warm, wet air has been pushed up from the Gulf of Mexico by southerly winds, and that is being met by cold air coming in from the Plains via Canada, Burke said, adding that the cold air is being driven eastward by unusually high winds.
“It’s not a normal pattern for this time of year,” he said. “The warm air has changed the dynamic. On the back end of the storm, you have high temperatures in the 50s and 60s in places like Chicago. By tomorrow night, they’ll be at 11 (degrees).”