Above: This image made from video provided by Thomas Marcum shows a tornado seen from State Highway 48 in Durant, Oklahoma, on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. (Thomas Marcum via AP)
At least seven deaths were reported from a swarm of severe weather that kicked off in Oklahoma and Texas on Wednesday and swept to the Southeast coast by Thursday afternoon. The NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center had tallied 32 preliminary tornado reports for Wednesday and Thursday. In terms of tornadoes, this system will likely fall in between the massive Southern outbreak on April 12-13, which produced at least 134 confirmed tornadoes, and the follow-up on April 19-20, which produced at least 17 confirmed twisters.
The two most destructive events were a line of tornadic supercells in south central and southeast Oklahoma on Wednesday afternoon and an eye-popping long-track supercell that plowed from southeast Texas to Mississippi late Wednesday.
The Oklahoma storms were a textbook example of discrete supercells—spaced just far enough apart (roughly 20-25 miles in this case) to allow each storm to generate a mesocyclone (a storm-scale circulation that can spawn tornadoes).
Two people died when a twister developed in the town of Madill in southeast Oklahoma. One person was killed in a vehicle, and another at a factory that was heavily damaged. Madill’s Holy Cross Catholic Church and rectory, built in 2019, also experienced significant damage, according to the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.
The Madill twister was an example of the notorious and dangerous subclass of tornadoes that produce ground-level damage without a visible funnel extending all the way to the ground.
The storm that wouldn’t quit
In contrast to the Oklahoma line, a single, spectacular long-track tornadic supercell dominated the southern end of Wednesday’s storms. One tornado from this storm killed at least three people and injured at least 20 in the small East Texas town of Onalaska, located on a peninsula in Lake Livingston about 80 miles north-northeast of Houston. Numerous homes were damaged or destroyed in Onalaska, which was struck around 6 pm EDT.
Surveyors from the National Weather Service were assessing damage from the storm in southeast Texas on Thursday.
Additional tornadoes likely spun from the storm as it moved into Louisiana on Wednesday night. A woman was killed when the storm passed near the town of Woodworth, just south of Alexandria in Rapides Parish.
Radar showed intermittent tornadic circulations with this storm—some quite intense—between around 5 p.m. and midnight CDT, as it mowed through heavily forested terrain all the way to southern Mississippi.
For more on this noteworthy storm, see the analysis from weather.com’s Chris Dolce.
Just to the north of the tornado reports, flash flooding occurred in and near the town of Mansfield, south of Shreveport, as reported by weather.com. One man’s body was recovered from a drainage ditch late Wednesday afternoon, and several rescues were carried out, the Shreveport Times reported.
"There was some pretty extreme flooding here in Mansfield," DeSoto Parish Sheriff Jayson Richardson told the Times. "Water like I’ve not seen in many, many years, if ever."
Even as the most-unstable air was shunted toward the Gulf Coast on Thursday, powerful storms continued to erupt. One intense storm produced multiple tornado reports as it rolled across far southern Georgia, with damage reported in the towns of Moultrie, Adel, and Pelham.
More than 100,000 homes and businesses across the Deep South were without power at 12:45 pm EDT Thursday, according to poweroutage.us.
A second round of storms was heading from southern Alabama into south Georgia and the Florida Panhandle late Thursday afternoon.
See weather.com for a frequently updated roster of impacts from the severe weather on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Northeast Pacific could get its first April tropical storm on record
We’ve seen a plethora of early-season tropical storms in recent years across the Atlantic, and now the Northeast Pacific appears to be following the trend. Multiple forecast models suggested on Thursday that a sprawling, disorganized zone of disturbed weather several hundred miles south of Baja California might develop over the next several days into a tropical depression or tropical storm.
In a tropical weather outlook issued early Thursday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center gave this system 40% odds of development by late Saturday, after which conditions will become less favorable.
The official start of the East Pacific hurricane season is May 15. In satellite-based records dating back to 1970, the earliest-in-the-spring tropical storm on record in the region was Tropical Storm Adrian, which formed on May 9, 2017.
We’ll have more on the current system in a post on Friday if it continues to show potential for development.