Forecasters warned today that more than two million people lie in the path of a series of storms that could produce an outbreak of violent, large-scale tornadoes across parts of Texas and Oklahoma, along with baseball-size hail, flash flooding and hurricane-force winds.
The warning, issued by the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Centre in Norman, Oklahoma, forecast a "major severe weather outbreak" over parts of northwest Texas and western and central Oklahoma.
Numerous tornadoes, described by forecasters as "long-track, fast-moving and intense," were possible in the region throughout today and into tomorrow.
As part of the warning, the Storm Prediction Centre took the rare step of announcing a "high risk" zone for potentially catastrophic tornadoes, the first time in two years that the centre had designated such an area.
Numerous cities and towns were placed in the high-risk zone, including the Texas towns of Childress, Haskell and Snyder, as well as Oklahoma City, Norman, Lawton and Moore in Oklahoma.
In 2013, a deadly tornado devastated Moore, a suburb just south of Oklahoma City, destroying a school and killing several students inside. That tornado carved a destructive path in the region for 27km and killed 24 people, including 10 children.
The timing of the warning was particularly ominous for residents of Moore: Today was the six-year anniversary of the tornado that struck the town.
Several school districts in Oklahoma, including in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa regions, cancelled classes. Other residents and agencies were taking their own precautions. Tinker Air Force Base, near Oklahoma City, evacuated some aircraft.
The National Weather Service posted an update on Twitter showing that a storm near the small town of Crescent, about 55km north of Oklahoma City, had produced at least two brief tornadoes. Forecasters warned that "the threat for more tornadoes remains high with this storm." Local television crews captured images of two twin tornadoes in the largely rural area.
The office of the Oklahoma governor, Kevin Stitt, said in a statement that the state's emergency operations centre had been activated and that an advance team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency had been brought in to "help facilitate the delivery of any federal resources that may be needed."
In a brief video posted on Twitter, a National Weather Service forecaster said to expect "multiple waves of severe thunderstorms," adding, "Do not let your guard down. It looks like severe storms and flooding will still be a big problem overnight."
Written by: Manny Fernandez
Photograph by: William Widmer
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