Damage assessments underway after tornadoes spotted across the South

A Thursday morning EF-2 tornado was confirmed in Arkansas before additional twisters were spotted in Mississippi later in the day.

Nearly 50 million Americans across 15 states faced the threat of severe weather on Thursday, which included large hail, damaging winds and tornadoes.

While the South is no stranger to experiencing severe weather in February, having the potential for severe storms as far north as the Great Lakes was a rarity for the time of year.

NOAA's Storm Prediction Center issued had Tornado Watches from Texas through the Tennessee Valley warning of the threat of severe storms, but a "cap" in place during the morning and afternoon prevented thunderstorms from becoming severe early in the day.


FOX Weather meteorologist Ian Oliver defined a cap as a layer of warm air aloft that acts a lid on the atmosphere, which prevents storms from growing vertically.

The FOX Forecast Center said storms failed to develop in earnest on Wednesday because of a strong cap that wasn't broken.


EF-2 tornado confirmed in Arkansas

The National Weather Service office in Little Rock, Arkansas, said a team of its meteorologists determined that an EF-2 tornado tore through Searcy and Marion counties during the early-morning hours of Thursday.

No injuries were reported with the twister, but damage included a home being dislodged from its foundation. The NWS reported trees blocked a half-dozen roads, including Highway 65, which had to be temporarily closed.

Other parts of Arkansas experienced hail and wind damage during the severe storms, but no other tornadoes were believed to have touched down in that state.


Additional tornadoes spotted in Mississippi

Parts of the Deep South were under a Tornado Watch for most of Thursday as two rounds of showers and storms moved in from the west.

Damage to mobile homes, awnings, trees and power lines was reported in several communities in Mississippi.

Jon Grisham, mayor of Ripley, Mississippi, said public works' main goal was to make sure roadways were clear after being given clearance by the local utility company.

"Our schools let out early today, and we were kind of expecting it to be a little later in the day," Grisham said. "It came sooner than we thought. But as far as being prepared and being ready for the emergency, we were."

The mayor had not received any reports of injuries or fatalities from the storm.

A little more hour than an hour's drive south and east of Ripley is the town of Smithville, Mississippi. Video from a resident in the eastern part of the state captured what appeared to be a large tornado outside the town.

The FOX Forecast Center said Doppler radar also detected a "debris ball," which is a telltale sign that rotation exists in a storm and that a tornado could be on the ground.

Smithville is no stranger to tornadoes and weather disasters. An EF-5 tornado in 2011 destroyed nearly everything in its path and impacted hundreds of residents.

Fortunately, Thursday's event did not reach the scale of the 2011 "Super Outbreak," and initial damage reports from the region appeared to be minimal.

High water in Tennessee forces evacuations

The threat of high water along the Kentucky-Tennessee border forced the closure of a daycare in Dover, Tennessee.

The Homestead Child Development Center said children were moved to higher ground after water started to quickly rise and a Flash Flood Warning was issued.

Computer forecast models showed a quick 1 to 2 inches of rainfall was possible, with locally higher amounts in storms and areas where precipitation could potentially move over the same region repeatedly.

More than 2 million people from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia had been placed under a Flood Watch. The FOX Forecast Center warned excessive runoff could lead to fast-rising rivers, creeks and streams.

Storm damage was also reported in Middle Tennessee, where NWS meteorologists will likely work to determine whether straight-line winds or a tornado impacted the town of Parsons. Several structures were damaged during the storms, and dozens of power outages were reported by local utilities.