Severe weather rakes South

BY SUSAN KIM | Washington, DC | March 11, 2000

Coming on heels of the warmest winter on record, leading weather forecasters are predicting the combination of the warm winter and early outbreaks of tornadoes and other severe storms, may produce a particularly deadly severe weather season this year.

The most recent tornadoes hit Texas and Alabama Friday night, but tornado warnings have plagued residents in the south nearly every night for the past two weeks. And more severe weather was predicted for Saturday.

Traditionally, Midwesterners don't usually have to start worrying about that type of severe weather until later in the season -- but this year is already an exception, with a tornado touching down in Milwaukee late Wednesday.

Spring marks the beginning of severe weather season for many parts of the U.S., but temperature trends have caused forecasters to redefine what is "typical" with regard to severe weather.

The tornado that touched down in Milwaukee was "unusual," said John Orgren, who oversees warning coordination for the National Weather Service.

And even the tornadoes that struck Georgia in February were "getting a little jump-start" on the normal severe weather season, he added. The early onset of severe weather is due, in part, to the mild winter of 1999, he said.

At least four deaths were blamed on Friday night's storms. Winds gusting to nearly 70 mph at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport is believed to have caused millions of dollars of property damage. Several high rise construction projects located east of the airport were also damaged. Two tornadoes reported near Birmingham, toppled trees onto homes and knocked out power to several thousand homes.

The tornado that touched down in Milwaukee late Wednesday overturned vehicles and damaged structures. Minor injuries were reported, and 40 blocks in a nearby neighborhood had to be evacuated while emergency crews repaired a natural gas leak.

The twister knocked down power lines but service was restored later in the evening. The twister headed out over Lake Michigan before it could cause catastrophic damage.

In parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, late Tuesday thunderstorms blew through bringing winds of up to 80 mph.

The evening thunderstorms left minor damage through Oklahoma and Kansas, according to media reports.

In Weatherford, Okla. about 60 miles from Oklahoma City, a portion of a Wal-Mart department store roof fell. The store suffered water damage but no injuries were reported as the store had been evacuated.

Overturned tractor-trailer rigs and trailer home damage were also reported in Weatherford and western Oklahoma. That same storm blew through Oklahoma City later.

In Guthrie, north of Oklahoma City trees and power lines were knocked down. There were some homes left without power. One home had wood boards blown into it.

Late Tuesday night, the National Weather Service reported a minor tornado in rural Northeast Oklahoma. It caused no damage or injuries however. Downed trees, traffic signs, and golf ball-size hail also were left by the quick-moving storm.

In nearby Kansas, the story was the same with two trailer homes knocked off their foundations in Mulvane in the Wichita area and in Liberal, in western Kansas, 70 mph winds snapped some utility poles, leaving about a fourth of the city without power.

-- Steve Gust contributed to this report.

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