Tornado risks, snowstorms expected as weather systems push east

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(CNN) — A white Christmas is rare for Little Rock, Arkansas, but a powerful winter storm took it to a new level: The 9 inches of snow that fell broke a December 25 snowfall record that had stood for 86 years.

The storm systems that brought snow to the Midwest and tornadoes to the South continued to move eastward Wednesday, threatening the Carolinas and inland New England.

The most pressing threat is to the southern parts of South Carolina, southeast North Carolina and northern Florida, which must endure the same severe weather pattern that caused about 30 tornadoes on Christmas Day. Two people died in weather-related incidents Tuesday.

Wednesday’s expected severe storms are “capable of producing more widespread damaging wind gusts and have the potential for tornadoes,” the National Weather Service said.

Meanwhile, snowstorms threatened the Northeast, with blizzard conditions persisting in parts of Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, CNN meteorologist Bonnie Schneider said. The storm will bring more than a foot of snow Wednesday night and Thursday to inland New England and western Pennsylvania.

Between the tornado risks in the South and the snowstorms in the North, “this extreme weather will make travel treacherous for millions of Americans this day after Christmas,” Schneider said.

In areas where the storm has passed, officials are assessing the damage.

More than 25 storm-related injuries were reported in Mississippi, the state’s emergency management office said Wednesday. No fatalities were reported.

In addition to the injuries, about 70 homes were damaged, most in the southern part of the state.

On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency for several battered Mississippi counties, a declaration that helps get support to victims. He said that at least eight counties had reported damage and injuries.

The severe storms left more than 215,000 people in the dark Wednesday, power companies said.

“Our main priority is focused on recovery,” said John Kilcullen, director of operations for emergency management in Mobile, Alabama. Electricity has been restored to 13,000 customers, and efforts were under way to remove debris, he said.

In Arkansas, the National Guard deployed resources for ambulance support in two counties, Maj. Chris Heathscott said, adding that the snow made for a tough commute Wednesday.

“I couldn’t get out of my driveway this morning, so I had to walk the five miles to our offices at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock,” he said. “I may have to just sleep here in the office tonight.”

The storms were responsible for at least two deaths on Christmas.

A 25-year-old man in Texas was killed after a tree fell on his pickup as he was driving on the northwest side of Houston, Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Gilliland said. Officials suspected high winds knocked the tree down.

A 28-year-old woman from Woodward, Oklahoma, was killed in an accident on a snow-covered two-lane highway.

Amanda Goodman was ejected from the SUV she was riding in after the driver lost control and struck an oncoming big rig, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said. Goodman died at the scene, and the driver and a 4-year-old passenger were taken to a hospital. They were listed in stable condition. The truck driver was not injured.

In Alabama, David Saraceno spotted something ominous as he sped down Interstate 165 in Mobile County on Tuesday. He was traveling with his wife and 1-year-old daughter to visit family when he saw a tornado on the side of the road. His wife videotaped it.

“It looked like it was about two miles away from us,” Saraceno said. “I put the pedal to the floor to try and get out of harm’s way, but it seemed to be getting closer and closer.”

Panicked, Saraceno got off the interstate near the town of Chickasaw, drove in a different direction and then turned around to go home. He couldn’t go see family in that weather.

“We drove right back into a path of destruction,” he said. “It appeared that the tornado turned and came over the interstate about three minutes away from where we would have been if I did not get off the interstate. We saw a roof that must have blown off a house. Cars were pulled to the side of the road. There was a lady whose windows were shattered. It was too close for comfort.”

Saraceno was not alone. Almost 30 tornadoes were reported on Christmas, according to preliminary reports by the National Weather Service.

Credit: CNN. CNN’s Devon Sayers, Chuck Johnston, Cristy Lenz, Sarah Dillingham, Carma Hassan, Mariano Castillo, Joe Sutton and Steve Brusk contributed to this report.