Severe weather batters USA: Death count rises in Texas; tornado touchdowns near Pittsburgh (2024)

Cybele Mayes-Osterman,Minnah ArshadUSA TODAY

Authorities reported more weather-related deaths in Texas on Friday night after a storm system battered the Houston area. Meanwhile, severe weather is set to wreak more havoc in the Southeast, bringing a risk of hail, damaging wind, and tornadoes to the area over the weekend.

On Friday evening, the National Weather Service issued tornado watches for parts of southern Georgia, southeast Alabama and the Florida Panhandle and confirmed three tornado touchdowns in the Pittsburgh area.

NWS also issued flash flood warnings Friday night for parts of Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio and Florida. Up to 3.5 inches of rain had already fallen in some areas, the weather service said, and more was on the way.

The latest round of severe weather comes after Houston woke up to scenes of destruction. Severe storms with winds of up to 100 mph spewed debris across roads and littered the ground downtown with broken glass.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez confirmed three additional storm-related deaths in a social media post Friday evening. Earlier, authorities reported at least four deaths were caused by the storm.

"We're in recovery mode," Houston Mayor John Whitmire said.

The National Weather Service confirmed one EF-1 tornado touched down Thursday night near Cypress, about 30 miles northwest of Houston, with winds reaching 110 mph. It was also investigating reports of an unconfirmed tornado in Galena Park, about 11 miles east of downtown, NWS meteorologist Jeff Evans said Friday. "The majority of this damage is straight-line winds," he said.

At least 4 dead in Texas storm

Mary Benton, spokesperson for the mayor, told USA TODAY the Harris County medical examiner's office would identify those killed and determine the causes of death.

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said Thursday that two of the deaths there were caused by falling trees. Another person died in a crane accident.

On Friday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said it would take time to assess impacts from the storm, which she said knocked out the power for 740,000 customers, most of them residents of Harris County.

"This kind of wind is something we have not seen in Harris County since Hurricane Alicia in 1983," she said.

Alicia, a Category 3 hurricane, swept across the state in August of 1983, bringing winds of up to 110 mph, according to the NWS. It caused more than $7 billion in damage.

Power restoration could take weeks in some areas, officials warn

Hidalgo said she had signed a disaster declaration on Friday morning and Houston's government was in contact with the White House.

At a news briefing Friday afternoon, Hidalgo warned that power restoration could take weeks in some areas.

Most of the storm damage appeared to be around Cypress, Hidalgo said. A helicopter scan of the impacted area showed the destruction was not as widespread as she expected.

The storms come weeks after the Houston area faced floods after a bout of heavy rain and thunderstorms earlier this month. In late April, Groveton and Trinity X — two towns around 100 miles north of Houston — received a respective 10 and 9 inches of rain.

Abbott issued a disaster proclamation late last month in response to severe storms that hit the state weeks ago with flooding, hail, and hazardous wind. In a letter on Tuesday, he asked President Joe Biden to declare a major disaster for the state.

As of Friday morning, debris had been cleared from freeways but was still scattered over individual neighborhoods, Hidalgo said.

'Downtown is a mess'

On Thursday night, Whitmire urged residents to stay home amid the dangerous road conditions. Widespread power outages had also knocked out traffic lights across the city, posing traffic control hazards for morning commuters. Whitmire said officials were also "concerned" about the dangers of broken glass on roadways.

"Downtown is a mess. It's dangerous due to the glass and the lack of traffic lights," he said. "So stay at home. I can't emphasize that, repeat that enough."

More: How do thunderstorms form? Here's what's actually happening during severe weather.

Fire Chief Peña said the majority of emergency calls to the fire department were to report downed wires and gas leaks. "If you're smelling gas inside your home, it could be potentially hazardous. So please call 911 if there is a smell of gas, but do so outside of that building," he said.

More than 900 customers of the utility company CenterPoint Energy had lost their power, he said. Power restoration would take up to 48 hours for some residents. The company said on X that restoring full power would be a "days-long restoration effort."

More than 420,000 outages, or 20% of all power accounts, were reported in the Houston area as of Friday morning, according to USA TODAY's national power outage tracker.

Houston's metro service said on Friday that shuttles would service the Purple and Green train lines due to power outages and debris on the tracks. Morning commuters should expect travel delays.

Schools throughout the area shuttered their doors in response to the severe weather. Whitmire also asked employers in the downtown area to allow their employees to work from home.

By Friday morning, the risk of severe weather in Houston was marginal, with cloudy skies and a few showers expected in the afternoon, according to the Weather Channel.

More: Four dead after severe storms lash Texas; tornadoes, floods loom in Southeast U.S.

Storms to bring hail, rain, possible tornadoes to Southeast

But the storm system is set to bring severe thunderstorms and excessive rainfall to the lower Mississippi Valley and Alabama on Friday and through the weekend.

"If you like rain and storms the next 2 days are for you," the National Weather Service in Birmingham posted on X on Friday morning. Southern Alabama, including Montgomery and Selma, could see a few tornadoes as the area is hit with hail and "damaging winds" of up to 60 mph.

As the storm moves eastward, northeastern Texas and parts of Alabama and Florida could be inundated with up to 8 inches of rain, potentially triggering serious flooding, according to AccuWeather.

Through that night, areas in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama could be at risk of flash flooding, the Weather Channel reported. Amid damaging winds on Saturday, the area faces an isolated tornado threat.

"Gusty winds and hail" would be the main threats in strong storms expected to hit parts of Southeast Mississippi, according to the weather service in Mobile.

Parts of Florida also endured heavy wind on Friday morning – the southern coast near Tallahassee was hit with wind gusts of up to 70 mph, the weather service reported.

Further south, temperatures hit record highs earlier this week. On Wednesday, a heat index of 115 degrees in Key West tied the area's all-time record, AccuWeather reported.

The same day, Miami temperatures hit 96 degrees, just two degrees below its record high for the month. The weather service warned that the city could see its heat index enter the "triple digits" over the weekend.

Cybele Mayes-Osterman is a breaking news reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her by email at cmayesosterman@usatoday.com. Follow her on X @CybeleMO.

Severe weather batters USA: Death count rises in Texas; tornado touchdowns near Pittsburgh (2024)
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