Tornados, Snow, Sleet in East; Record Heat in West

CENTURY, Fla. (AP) —
Area residents survey damage to a business off Mississippi Highway 18 in Sylverana, Miss., Monday, Feb. 15, 2016, after severe weather affected south Mississippi. No injuries were reported in the storm. Officials are investigating reports of at least two possible tornadoes that accompanied a line of thunderstorms across central and southern Mississippi Monday. (Ryan Moore/WDAM-TV, via AP)
Area residents survey damage to a business off Mississippi Highway 18 in Sylverana, Miss., Monday. (Ryan Moore/WDAM-TV, via AP)

Suspected tornadoes touched down in Florida’s Panhandle and Mississippi on Monday, destroying more than a dozen homes, damaging a school while it was in session and trapping an elderly woman and possibly other residents under rubble.

The tornadoes were part of a large winter storm system that was clobbering the eastern U.S. with snow, sleet, strong winds and rain, and which came on the heels of record-breaking low temperatures.

In the West, it was a very different story: Both Arizona and California were experiencing record-high temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s.

Officials in Florida and Mississippi were investigating reports of at least three possible tornadoes. One of the apparent twisters swept through the rural town of Century, in the northwest corner of Florida’s Panhandle, late Monday afternoon, destroying or significantly damaging about 10 homes, said Escambia County spokeswoman Joy Tsubooka.

Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown said authorities didn’t believe there were any people still trapped as of late Monday night, but he said crews were continuing search and rescue efforts just in case.

Streets throughout the area were blocked by uprooted trees and downed power lines. In the city’s historic downtown, 100-year-old homes were jolted off their foundations, trees had fallen through some homes and mangled strips of siding and other debris were wrapped around falling power lines.

Authorities opened up one shelter and said they would close some schools in the area on Tuesday.

Century is located on the Florida-Alabama border about 45 miles north of Pensacola, Florida. A dashcam video from the patrol car being driven by Escambia County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Dewes showed clouds forming into a funnel and dipping toward the ground as debris, including an uprooted pine tree, flew past.

“I’ve never seen one form that big and that fast,” Dewes said.

Pensacola news station WEAR-TV showed a large, black funnel cloud touching down on a highway near the town, and images submitted by viewers to the news station’s social media page showed downed trees. Gulf Power reported on its site that about 800 people in Century were without electricity.

In Mississippi, windows were blown out of cars and two gymnasiums and a library were damaged at a K-12 school in Wesson, where children were in attendance when heavy thunderstorms and a possible tornado walloped at least 19 counties. There were no reports of any students injured, said Mississippi Department of Education spokeswoman Patrice Guilfoyle.

Emergency management officials reported at least 15 buildings and homes damaged or destroyed, including a mobile home that was destroyed in Lincoln County. A gas station and some homes were damaged in Sylvarena in Smith County, and more than 18,000 customers were without power.

In the eastern U.S. on Monday, a day after record low temperatures plunged several states into a deep freeze, snow, freezing rain and sleet were pummeling the region.

National Weather Service meteorologist Bruce Sullivan said there could be significant snowfall — 4 to 8 inches — in eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and western New York. Some mountainous areas could get even more snow.

With federal offices and many businesses closed for Washington’s Birthday, though, many people were able to hunker down at home.

In Virginia, the state police asked motorists to delay any unnecessary travel until weather conditions improved. By late afternoon, authorities were on the scene of 37 traffic crashes statewide, including a fatal crash in Fauquier County.

In North Carolina, light freezing rain, sleet and snow caused wrecks and closed schools and businesses. The National Weather Service said the precipitation was light Monday morning, but with temperatures in the 20s, it was freezing immediately on bridges, roads and other surfaces.

By Tuesday, when temperatures get higher, the rain and some runoff could cause flooding in some areas, Sullivan said.

Sunday’s teeth-chattering temperatures were some of the coldest on record.

In several Northeastern cities — including New York, Boston and Hartford, Connecticut — temperatures on Sunday dipped below zero, falling to minus 40 on Mount Washington in New Hampshire.

In the West, Arizona and California were baking in the heat: It was 89 in downtown Los Angeles, breaking 1977’s record of 88. In Orange County, Santa Ana hit 94, well above the 89 degrees recorded in 1977. San Francisco’s 77 was a degree hotter than the high set in 1930.

The National Weather Service forecasts Phoenix will have highs of 89 on Tuesday and 92 on Wednesday, above the previous records of 84 and 88 degrees, respectively. The high temperatures followed several records set last week in Phoenix, Prescott, Tucson and Yuma.

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