Tornadoes slam parts of Mississippi; other states under watch

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(CNN) — A tornado system touched down in portions of Mississippi on Tuesday afternoon, leaving injuries, damage and power outages, said local authorities.

In the town of Sumrall, west of Hattiesburg, a tornado hit a day care off Highway 42.

“Got it pretty good,” said police spokesman Officer Nick Verner.

Verner said all the children have been accounted for and there were no injuries. They were moved to a nearby bank.

In Columbia, 27 miles southwest of Sumrall, the tornado damage appeared to be centered off Highway 98 near a Walmart, according to Marion County Emergency Management spokeswoman Megan Smith.

Smith confirmed reports of injuries and damaged or destroyed cars and structures. Power outages were reported. No deaths have been reported.

Multiple roads were closed due to damage including, Highway 13, said Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman, Brett Carr.

Also in Marion County, a sheriff’s department operator reported people trapped and injured as a result of a tornado touchdown. Authorities couldn’t provide an exact number of people affected.

In Jones County, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency reported damaged homes and power outages.

“Right now, the system is pretty much forming a diagonal line across the southeast corner of the state,” said spokesman Greg Flynn. “There is a report that we have another one — a tornado in Jones County near the City of Laurel. It was a dangerous system coming through.”

The same storm system destroyed about 15 homes outside Amite, Louisiana, 47 miles northeast of Baton Rouge, according to Tangipahoa Parish Emergency Management spokeswoman Vicki Travis.

Photos obtained by CNN showed structures completely flattened.

No injuries were reported in Tangipahoa, but 1,750 households did not have power.

Flynn said the agency worked to prepare residents for the storm but the bad weather “could not have come at a worst time of year.”

“People are out scrambling to get their last-minute Christmas shopping done. We have a lot of people moving around and traveling for the holidays. A lot of visitors that may not know where to go and what to do when the bad weather came through,” said Flynn.

The National Weather Service extended its tornado watch to include Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Winter Storm

The tornado system compounded a rain-heavy storm that already soaked the area.

“You wouldn’t think of December as a month which you would see severe weather,” said CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis. “Actually, this is a secondary peak for tornado activity. The first is during the spring months, but we got very warm, moist unstable air that is going to unload quite a bit of heavy rainfall all across the southeast.”

“This is going to be very problematic — not just for travelers, but now that the weather has turned very violent,” said Maginnis.

The National Weather Service warned that 2 to 4 inches of precipitation are expected, with 6 to 8 inches possible, in parts of Alabama, Georgia and north Florida by the time this storm rolls through.

The Northeast also experienced its share of weather woes on Tuesday. Travelers in Philadelphia were seeing average delays of almost two hours due to low clouds, the Federal Aviation Administration reported. Things weren’t much better in Boston’s airport and at LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports in and around New York City.

Lower gas prices, more weather headaches?

A weather system spinning in the middle Mississippi River Valley is expected to move slowly toward the Great Lakes region.

A weather system that formed in the Gulf of Mexico pushed moisture north, creating heavy rain and winds up to 30 mph in the Southeast, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said. On the Gulf Coast, at least, these storms could be accompanied by large hail and possibly isolated tornadoes.

All this wetness could make for treacherous driving on the I-95 corridor, which runs up the East Coast.

And none of it is good news for the 98.6 million Americans that AAA projects will be going 50 or more miles this holiday season, a 4% increase from last year. They can take advantage of plummeting gas prices — which, averaging $2.25 nationwide, are down 69 cents a gallon from a year ago.

By Christmas Day, things should quiet down on the East Coast, with most of the moisture having moved into and past Canada.

“There may be a few lingering snow showers across the Western Appalachians and interior New England,” he said. “Winds will be strongest Christmas Eve night into Christmas morning for the Northeast as the front and system passes.”

It’s not just the East

The West will have its own travel problems, with precipitation forecast to hit the Northwest on Tuesday moving into the Rockies — in the form of snow — Christmas Day.

The National Weather Service says snow is likely in Denver; Missoula, Montana; and Jackson, Wyoming. Flight delays are possible in Minneapolis; St. Louis; and Omaha, Nebraska.

Even Hawaii isn’t immune, with flash flood watches in effect for all its main islands through Wednesday night due to heavy rains.