NEW YORK (AFP) - East coast Americans shed their Christmas sweaters on Thursday (Dec 24) to enjoy soaring temperatures ahead of the holiday, as further south deadly tornadoes cut a swathe through rural communities.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), temperatures in New York's iconic Central Park peaked at 22 degrees C, the warmest Christmas Eve since records began in 1871.
In the capital Washington, tourists and last minute shoppers wore T-shirts and sat outside at sidewalk cafes as federal workers left their offices dressed for holiday parties.
High temperatures were reported as far north as Saint Anicet in the Canadian province of Quebec, which hit 21 degrees C, and the NWS reported that the port of Norfolk in Virginia broke its all time December record of 28 degrees C.
The New York Times cooking blog broke away from its coverage of traditional Yuletide fare to offer "Recipes for a 70-Degree Christmas" - leading off with roast salmon and a soft herb salad.
At Maryland's only ski station just one of 35 trails was open, thanks to artificial snow-making machines. Last year the Wisp Resort's runs opened on Dec 13, NBC Washington reported.
But the abnormally balmy temperatures had tragic consequences in weather further south, where more than a dozen tornadoes were reported in six states.
At least 14 people were killed as the storms, feeding on the unseasonable warm air, left a trail of destruction from Illinois to Alabama.
Heavy damage was inflicted in the south, causing seven deaths in Mississippi alone, according to the state's Emergency Management Agency.
A seven-year-old boy was found dead after the storm picked up and tossed the car he was traveling in, fire chief Kenny Holbrook told reporters in the town of Holly Springs, where some 5,000 customers were still believed to be without power.
At least 40 people were injured in the state, Governor Phil Bryant said, as he issued a state of emergency that will allow local governments to request aid for recovery.
"Most of these storms caused a lot of damage in north Mississippi but our teams are out assessing the damage, trying to put a quantity on how many homes and how many businesses have been damaged," the emergency agency's Brett Carr said.
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said six people were killed in the state, while media reported one fatality in the state of Arkansas.
The National Weather Service in Memphis, Tennessee, said that an "exceptionally long-track, violent tornado" had likely traveled all the way from Mississippi to Tennessee.
"If it is continuous it would be the longest track DEC tornado on record here in the Mid-South," the agency posted on Twitter.
Nick Weems, interim sheriff for Perry County in Tennessee told CNN that his community had "lost several homes" including one in which two people had died.
"It's just a very, very devastating tragic time for our community, especially now here at the holidays," he said.
One Perry County survivor told CNN that after the tornado it looked "like a waste land. There's nothing left." "We were in the house. We heard the wind picking up. We dashed to the storm shelter. We had 45 seconds and it hit," he said.
The National Weather Service reported Thursday that "the storm system that produced the severe weather outbreak... has diminished in strength." However, isolated severe thunderstorms were still possible from the Mid-Atlantic to the Gulf Coast, it said.