By Doyle Rice, USA TODAY
An outbreak of severe storms began to lash the South on Tuesday, and will continue overnight, when tornadoes are forecast.
"Severe thunderstorms, with widespread damaging winds and several tornadoes, are expected," according to an online bulletin from the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Norman, Okla.
The states at greatest risk for tornadoes are Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. Shrouded in darkness, nighttime tornadoes can be deadly, especially during the winter season when people are not accustomed to such severe weather, the National Weather Service warns.
There has been one confirmed tornado report near Marthasville, Mo. There have been several reports of large hail and damaging winds in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas, according to the SPC.
Heavy rain will accompany the storms, the Weather Channel reports. In the north-central USA, the rain will fall on frozen ground, which has prompted the weather service to issue flood watches in parts of the Upper Midwest, including Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee and Indianapolis.
Warm air is pushing north ahead of the storms: Chicago set a record high temperature of 62 degrees, which is about 30 degrees above average. Corpus Christi, Texas, reached 90 degrees on Tuesday, only the fourth time that city has reached the 90s in January since records began in 1887.
The severe weather threat will extend farther east Wednesday, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Brian Edwards. He said the storms will move into Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh on Wednesday. There could even be a couple of gusty storms as far north as Washington.
Tornadoes in January are rare but not unprecedented, and deadly outbreaks do occur. On average, 35 tornadoes hit the USA each January, according to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).
The worst January for tornadoes was 1999, when more than 200 tornadoes ripped across the nation, according to the website U.S. tornadoes. Seventeen people died that month, which was the worst winter month on record for number of tornadoes.
Monday, the weather service predicted a "moderate" risk of severe weather more than 24 hours out, only the fifth time it had done so in January in the past 15 years, said Gregory Carbin, the director of the SPC.
The nation has had its longest break between tornado fatalities since detailed tornado records began being kept in 1950, according to the SPC and NCDC. The last one was June 24, when a person was killed in a home in Highlands County, Fla. That's 219 days.
Contributing: The Associated Press