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Storms hit South with tornadoes, dump heavy snow in Midwest

A sprawling storm hit the South with strong thunderstorms and tornadoes that blew roofs off homes, flipped over campers and tossed about furniture in Florida on Tuesday. Another storm brought cities across the Midwest to a standstill with more than half a foot of snow, stranding people on highways as it headed to the Northeast.

At least four deaths were attributed to the storm pummeling the South, where 55 mph winds and hail moved through the Florida Panhandle and into parts of Alabama and Georgia by sunrise Tuesday, along with several reports of radar-confirmed tornadoes, the National Weather Service said. A wind gust of 106 mph was recorded before dawn near the coast in Walton County, Florida.

Near Cottonwood, Alabama, a small city near the Georgia and Florida borders, 81-year-old Charlotte Paschal was killed when her mobile home was tossed from its foundation, the Houston County coroner said. A suspected tornado had touched down in the area.

Police in Clayton County, south of Atlanta, say a man died during heavy rain when a tree fell on his car on a state highway in Jonesboro.  

In North Carolina, one person has died and two others were in critical condition after a suspected tornado struck a mobile home park in the town of Claremont, north of Charlotte, said Amy McCauley, a spokesperson for Catawba County. And in Rocky Mount, downed power lines shut down both directions of I-95, one of the nation's busiest highways, the North Carolina's Department of Transportation said in a statement.  

Some 84 million people remained under flood watches and warnings along the East Coast on Tuesday night. More than 481,000 customers were without power in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey late Tuesday night, according to the website, along with another 151,000 customers in Virginia and North Carolina. 

A spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris confirmed to CBS News on Tuesday evening that "inclement weather" forced the vice president's return flight to Washington, D.C., from Atlanta, Georgia, aboard Air Force 2 to be slightly diverted from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to Dulles International Airport in Virginia. 

Storm-related injuries were reported in Florida, but no deaths. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters in Tallahassee at least four tornadoes touched down in the Panhandle. DeSantis issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency for 49 counties in North Florida. Multiple counties closed schools for Tuesday ahead of the storm, and some said they would reopen Wednesday.

"This is obviously going to impact the state throughout the day," DeSantis said.

A section of Panama City Beach, Florida, showed parts of roofs blown away, furniture, fences and debris strewn about and a house that appeared to be tilted on its side, leaning on another home.

A house is seen tilting in Panama City Beach, Florida, on Jan. 9, 2024, after a storm hit the area.
A house is seen tilting in Panama City Beach, Florida, on Jan. 9, 2024, after a storm hit the area. WECP-TV

Gary Michaels was across the street from the house that toppled over, and he said the heavy winds were extremely loud.

"It was a freight train hitting a brick wall. That's how loud it was," he told CBS News. "It was extremely scary in the house."

Kevin Guthrie, executive director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, told reporters about a house in the Panama City area that was listing at an angle of 20-25 degrees, but it wasn't clear if he was referring to the same house.

"For it to have to pick that up off its foundation and move it like that, you may even be into EF3 status there," Guthrie said, referring to the tornado's strength, which will ultimately be determined by the weather service.

In Panama City, about 10 miles away, police early Tuesday asked residents to stay indoors and off the roads "unless absolutely necessary" as officers checked on damage from the storms, including downed power lines and trees.

The city is in Bay County, where there had been multiple reports of tornadoes on the ground, Sheriff Tommy Ford said in a brief Facebook Live post.

"We've rescued people out of structures," he said.

The sheriff's office urged people to stay home, posting photos of a damaged apartment complex and marina. Ford announced a curfew would be in effect from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The Walton County Sheriff's Office in the Florida Panhandle posted photos of power lines draped across a road, damage to a gas station and large pieces of building materials littering the area.

The sheriff's office posted a video of a severe storm hitting the area.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay announced it was closing early at 2 p.m. Tuesday due to the weather and would reopen Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Heavy rain across Georgia stopped air traffic at Atlanta's busy airport for a time Tuesday morning and caused flash flooding, blocking some lanes on freeways around Atlanta during the morning commute. More than 80 public school systems across Georgia called off classes entirely while others taught students online or delayed the start of in-person classes.

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency before the storm approached so weight and size restrictions on large and heavy trucks containing emergency supplies or agricultural goods would be waived. Some schools were canceled or shut down early to avoid the threats from high winds and flooding.

Meanwhile, in the Midwest, where a snowstorm started Monday, up to 12 inches of snow could blanket a broad area stretching from southeastern Colorado all the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, including western Kansas, eastern Nebraska, large parts of Iowa, northern Missouri and northwestern Illinois, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

A person uses a snowblower to clear a sidewalk in Des Moines, Iowa, as a snowstorm dumps several inches of snow on the area Jan. 9, 2024.
A person uses a snowblower to clear a sidewalk in Des Moines, Iowa, as a snowstorm dumps several inches of snow on the area Jan. 9, 2024. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The storm dumped around 8 to 12 inches of snow across Kansas, eastern Nebraska and South Dakota, western Iowa and southwestern Minnesota on Monday, with 15 inches at North Sioux City, South Dakota, the National Weather Service reported. Lower amounts fell over western Iowa, central Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Poor road conditions contributed to a fatal crash early Tuesday in southeastern Wisconsin, Jefferson County Sheriff Paul Milbrath said in a news release. An SUV driver was killed following a head-on collision with a semitrailer on state Highway 18 around 5:40 a.m. The driver of the semitrailer was not hurt. Sheriff's Capt. Travis Maze said in a telephone interview that layers of slush and snow covered the center and fog lines on the highway.

In western Michigan, a 35-year-old woman died Tuesday after she lost control of her minivan on a slushy highway and it collided with an SUV, the Lake County Sheriff's Office said. The ambulance taking her to a Grand Rapids hospital, where she was pronounced dead, was struck by another vehicle en route there, and a second ambulance was needed to finish the transport to the hospital.

From the Midwest, the storm was expected to head east, bringing a combination of snow, rain and strong winds to the Northeast by Tuesday night, as well as concerns about flooding in areas such as New England, parts of which got more than a foot of snow Sunday.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy already declared a state of emergency ahead of what's expected to be heavy rain and wind that will exacerbate the effects of bad weather conditions since December.

"I would just say this is one I would strongly, strongly, strongly encourage folks to not underestimate," he said at a news conference Monday.

Some areas in the Garden State are expected to get 3-4 inches of rain and could see wind gusts up to 55 mph. Residents in Little Falls raced to fill sandbags earlier on Tuesday to hold off potential flooding from the Passaic River.

"We don't have a basement, so I'm concerned about my garage," one resident said as he filled his bags. 

In New York, city officials began evacuating nearly 2,000 migrants who had been housed at a sprawling white tent complex at a former airport located in a remote corner of Brooklyn. An aide to New York City Mayor Eric pointed to predicted wind speeds of more than 70 mph Tuesday night.

In western New York, an empty tractor trailer blew over on the state Thruway on Tuesday morning, temporarily blocking all westbound traffic, state police said. The state banned empty trucks and trailers on numerous major roadways.

In Maine, Gov. Janet Mills has delayed the opening of all state offices until noon Wednesday due to the storm.

The weather has already affected campaigning for Iowa's Jan. 15 precinct caucuses, where the snow is expected to be followed by frigid temperatures that could drift below zero degrees.

It forced former President Donald Trump's campaign to cancel multiple appearances by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders and her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had been scheduled to court Iowa voters on Trump's behalf Monday.

Whiteout conditions in central Nebraska closed a long stretch of Interstate 80, while Kansas closed Interstate 70 from the central city of Russell all the way west to the Colorado border due to dangerous travel conditions. Several vehicles slid off I-70 in the northeastern part of the state, authorities said.

Madison, Wisconsin, was under a winter storm warning until early Wednesday, with as much as 9 inches of snow and 40 mph winds on tap.

Northwestern Illinois was also under a winter storm warning with forecasts calling for 7 to 12 inches of snow by early Wednesday. The Chicago area as well as Gary, Indiana, were under winter storm advisories, with forecasts calling for up to 6 inches of snow and wind gusts of up to 30 mph.

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