Wild weather set to tear across US, adding to coronavirus woes

The aftermath of damage from a tornado is seen in Tennessee on March 6, 2020.
The aftermath of damage from a tornado is seen in Tennessee on March 6, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

BOSTON (BLOOMBERG) - Easter Sunday brings a "deadly potential" of hail, tornadoes, floods and even heavy snow across the central United States, yet if people stay home to protect against the Covid-19 pandemic some of the weather's worst affects could be blunted.

Tornado watches stretched across Texas early Sunday (April 12), and the potential for the storms, along with flooding downpours and roof-shredding hail, was likely to unfold across the rest of the South with the worst later in the day.

Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama could be the hardest hit, but twisters could strike as far east as Atlanta, according to the US Storm Prediction Centre in Norman, Oklahoma.

To the north, winter storm warnings and weather advisories arced from Montana through South Dakota and Nebraska to Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

As much as 8 inches (20cm) of snow could fall across many of the states, with the potential for several feet in the UP, said Mr Patrick Burke, a senior branch forecaster at the US Weather Prediction Centre in College Park, Maryland.

"There is a deadly potential in the storms today," Mr Burke said. "The key takeaway for the southern and central US is: you probably are already staying home, but people really need to be attuned to what the threat is locally and watch for information to unfold very rapidly."

A massive storm will coalesce across the central US until it's centred along a line from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Chicago. By Monday it'll be focused over the Great Lakes and bring some of its destructive power to the East Coast as well.

There's potential in the South for some tornadoes to reach to the top of the Enhanced Fujita scale, meaning they have the power to level even the strongest of homes and buildings.

Severe thunderstorms, floods and snow can all lead to massive losses so it is likely Sunday's event, which will spill over into Monday, could cost in the billions of dollars.

 
 

On top of the tornado and snow threat, six states from Mississippi to Virginia, including Tennessee, face potential flash flooding on Sunday. Drivers account for a large number of flood deaths, so if people adhere to stay-at-home warnings due to the Covid-19 pandemic that could help save lives, Mr Burke said.

"If you are following the advice related to the pandemic that is one layer of protection," Mr Burke said.

On Monday the storm will move east, raking the Midwest, mid-Atlantic and Northeast with high winds and the potential for power outages. High wind watches reach from Michigan to Maine, including Philadelphia, New York and Boston, the National Weather Service said.

While the potential for power outages won't be as great as what's typically seen during a blizzard, the fact so many people are working from home mean the affects could be greater, said Mr Burke.

By Tuesday the storm will have moved off into Canada and the US should have a "pretty tranquil" day, he said.