Storms could bring powerful tornadoes, hail to Great Plains

The Kansas University rowing team practices on the Kansas River under threatening clouds as a storm front moves over Lawrence, Kan. early Tuesday morning, April 26, 2016. (Mike Yoder/Lawrence Journal-World via AP)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Forecasters are warning that severe storms could bring “significant” tornadoes and grapefruit-sized hail to the Great Plains on Tuesday, while severe thunderstorms and strong wind gusts are predicted for Mid-Atlantic states where voters are casting ballots in primary elections.

The most dangerous weather — heavy winds, tornadoes and giant hail — will likely take aim at a 66,000-square-mile area stretching from southern Oklahoma to southern Nebraska, including the Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas, areas, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Parts of Texas and Missouri are also at risk for big hail and damaging wind gusts, forecasters said.

George Eischen, 51, spent Tuesday morning moving vehicles off the lot at his Chevrolet dealership in the small town of Fairview, about 100 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. Eischen said he has been lining the new vehicles “bumper to bumper” in the shop and even the floor of the lobby to protect them from the hail.

“We’ve never been hit by a tornado here in town, amazingly,” Eischen said. “But yeah, we’ve had hail. And that’s the real enemy of the car dealer.”

In all, nearly 50 million people from the Rio Grande in South Texas to Omaha, Nebraska, and the western regions of Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa are at a slight risk or higher of experiencing severe weather Tuesday. That tally also includes Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Baltimore, where a separate storm system could bring strong winds and thunderstorms to Mid-Atlantic states.

“We shouldn’t assume that we’re going to have a lot of information — you know, a lot of lead time,” Storm Prediction Center meteorologist Matt Mosier said. “We may or we may not.”

Storms are expected in Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, where voters are casting ballots in primary elections Tuesday, though forecasters aren’t expecting a severe weather outbreak there.

Some schools in the Oklahoma City area called off classes Tuesday, while others said students would be sent home early to avoid the worst of the weather.

Mid-Del Public Schools, in the Oklahoma City suburb of Midwest City, canceled classes late Monday. It said in a statement that the safety of students and staff is a priority, noting that it reworked its tornado safety plan three years ago after a twister killed seven schoolchildren in the neighboring suburb of Moore.

In recent years, authorities have been able to predict storm conditions like these several days in advance with greater confidence, Mosier said, though he noted that the weather doesn’t always pan out as expected.

“It’s never straightforward when you’re sitting here talking about (predicting) large tornadoes,” Mosier said. “We’re trying to be as confident or as accurate as we can.”

Residents of affected areas should develop a plan to take shelter from a quick-forming storm without driving in severe conditions, Mosier said.

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