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Late-year severe storm threat returning to Southeast

More tornadoes possible where cleanup continues from early December storms

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Less than three weeks after a deadly tornado outbreak devastated portions of the southern U.S., another round of severe weather could hit some of the same spots in the final days of 2021.

A strong cold front producing snow in parts of the Midwest could produce strong to severe thunderstorms in portions of several southern states Wednesday and Wednesday night.

Besides the front, the threat for storms is also being fed by an abundance of unusually warm air for late December — highs in the 60s, 70s and lower 80s — as well as humid air from the Gulf of Mexico spreading across the South.

This pattern will allow moisture to work into Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, possibly expanding into the southern Appalachians.

Multiple rounds of rain and thunderstorms are forecast to develop from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley and southern Ohio Valley. Some storms could turn severe, producing straight-line winds of 60-plus mph, scattered areas of large hail and isolated tornadoes.

Rain may be intense enough at times to cause flash flooding. Truckers could hit sporadic road closures due to this flash flooding or downed trees and power lines because of the winds.


Some of the major metropolitan areas and freight hubs in the potential risk region are Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee; Birmingham and Huntsville, Alabama; Jackson, Mississippi; as well as Atlanta. Areas on the bubble include Montgomery, Alabama; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Little Rock, Arkansas; Mayfield, Paducah and Hopkinsville, Kentucky; in addition to Knoxville, Tennessee.

Drivers on Interstates 20, 40, 55 and 65 will need to watch for rapidly changing conditions and make sure their mobile weather apps are set to “location” or “GPS” mode. This will ensure that they will receive local weather alerts no matter where they are.

This latest threat for possible severe weather comes just two and a half weeks after a prolific tornado outbreak left entire towns in ruins and at least 92 people dead, according to The Associated Press. The outbreak, which occurred on Dec. 10 and Dec. 11, produced at least 66 confirmed tornadoes.

Major lanes of concern

• Interstate 20 from Monroe, Louisiana, to Atlanta.
• Interstate 24 from Chattanooga to Clarksville, Tennessee.
• Interstate 40 from Little Rock to Knoxville.
• Interstate 55 from Caruthersville, Missouri, to McComb, Mississippi.
• Interstate 59 from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to Interstate 24 in northern Georgia.
• Interstate 65 from Nashville to Montgomery.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.
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