The Latest: Snow drifts close highways in Texas Panhandle

Dec 27, 2015 2:24 PM by News Staff

The latest developments on the severe storms across the U.S:

12:35 p.m.

Whiteout conditions and snow drifts have closed some highways in the Texas Panhandle, while historic snowfall totals are expected in nearby New Mexico.

Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Paul Braun tells the Amarillo Globe-News that crews are doing what they can to plow the drifts, but that they "go through and it blows it right back."

Parts of Interstate 40 west of Amarillo, Texas, and into Santa Rosa, New Mexico, were shut Sunday. Nearly 10,000 Excel Energy customers, most of them Amarillo, have been without power. High winds are blamed for knocking over utility poles and power lines.

Amarillo received only about 3 inches of snow overnight but high winds have caused 3- to 4-foot drifts. Forecasts are calling for another 4 to 8 inches of snow and winds gusting to 50 miles an hour. Albuquerque, New Mexico, has received about 6 inches of snow.


12:05 p.m.

Forecasters say two tornadoes that hit the Dallas area had winds up to more than 200 mph.

National Weather Service teams are still surveying damage from Saturday's storms that left at least 11 people dead and injured dozens.

The weather service said the tornado in the suburb of Garland has been rated an EF-4. That's the second-most powerful tornado on the damage scale used by meteorologists and is generally strong enough to level well-constructed homes and toss cars.

Authorities in Garland say at least eight people were killed in 15 injured in storms on Saturday night. About 600 homes were also destroyed.

The weather service also said damage in nearby Rowlett indicated it was likely an EF-3 tornado, which has winds up to 165 mph. City officials said 23 people were injured by the storm.


11:25 a.m.

A southern Illinois coroner says three adults and two children have drowned after the vehicle they were riding in was swept away and sank in a rain-swollen creek.

Marion County Coroner Troy Cannon says the swift moving East Fork Creek carried the car off a low-water bridge about 7:30 p.m. Saturday near the town of Patoka, about 60 miles east of St. Louis.

The car became lodged 150 to 200 feet downstream, but shortly after the first firefighter arrived on the scene it was dislodged and sank.

Cannon says dive teams recovered the car from the water several hours later and the bodies of the victims from the car.

The names of the victims were not immediately released. Cannon says the vehicle was traveling from Kentucky to Minnesota.


11:20 a.m.

Witnesses say drivers appeared to abandon their cars along a Texas interstate where authorities say a tornado thrashed an area of 2 square miles outside Dallas and left at least three people dead.

Zach Shirley said Sunday that bumper-to-bumper traffic clogged Interstate 30 near an intersection where police say some cars appeared to be thrown from the road.

The 34-year-old said he spent nearly eight hours on the interstate, on which he got on after the tornado, and considered leaving his car and walking to his apartment.

Shirley said he was humbled to find out that where he lived was spared.

At least 11 people died in severe weather that damaged hundreds of homes around Dallas and shut down roads the day after Christmas.


10:55 a.m.

Forecasters say the threat of severe weather is likely over for the Dallas area, where at least 11 people were killed from storms that spawned tornadoes and wreaked havoc on roadways.

National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Bishop said Sunday that more rain and plunging temperatures are on the way. A slow-moving cold front could also bring flooding and damaging winds farther east of the overnight destruction that knocked out power to thousands and crumpled hundreds of homes.

Forecasters say the weekend storms put the annual rainfall at DFW International Airport above five feet for the first time in recorded history.

Two survey teams were headed out Sunday to assess the strength and number of tornadoes that socked the area Saturday night.


9 a.m.

New Mexico residents are dealing with a snowstorm that has crippled parts of the state and caused traffic accidents and road closures.

In Albuquerque, police say officers responded to 178 weather-related accidents by 9:30 p.m. Saturday. About 58 involved people with injuries.

Officials also shut down a stretch of Interstate 40 leading to the Texas border because of hazardous driving conditions.

Police spokesman Fred Duran says hotels along I-40 were full and had to turn people away.

The National Weather Service says it is expecting historic snowfall totals and that snow drifts more than 7 feet high have been reported.


9:30 a.m.

A neighborhood in a community northeast of Dallas where 23 people were injured is cleaning up from an apparent tornado.

Dale Vermurlen lives in a Rowlett neighborhood that sustained heavy damage. His house only had minor damage, but was next to that were flattened.

He said he rode out the storm with his two dogs in the bathroom.

Homes in the neighborhood that had been searched by emergency responders were marked with a black "X." State troopers had blocked off roads, utility crews were restoring power and people were walking around, hushed and dazed.

Rowlett has a 24-hour curfew in the affected areas, which Thunderberg says took a direct hit from the tornado.

At least 11 people died during the storms, but no deaths were reported in Rowlett.


8:55 a.m.

National Weather Service survey teams are heading out to the Dallas suburbs where tornadoes and strong storms that killed at least 11 people left widespread destruction.

Meteorologist Matt Bishop at the weather service's Fort Worth office says he believes there were multiple twisters but the number and strength aren't known yet. Teams have gathered in the continuing thunderstorms and rain.

Bishop says the tornado outbreak at this time of the year for North Texas occurs "from time to time ... but it's certainly not something that happens regularly."

In far West Texas, up to four inches of snow has fallen overnight in the Alpine area, with foot-deep drifts reported.


7:35 a.m.

Garland Police Lt. Pedro Barineau said at least three people who died were found in vehicles.

He also said that some cars appeared to be thrown from Interstate 30 and George Bush Turnpike when the tornado hit about 6:45 p.m. Saturday. It wasn't known whether that was the case for the people found in the vehicles.

Eight people died and 15 were injured in Garland, which is about 20 miles northeast of Dallas. That death toll went up by three since Saturday night.

About 600 structures were damaged, the majority of which were single-family homes. Barineau said that it's "total devastation."

At least 11 people have died in Texas due to the storms.


7:15 a.m.

Eight people have died and 15 people were injured in Garland in a destructive tornado.

Garland Police Lt. Pedro Barineau said in a Sunday morning news conference that the death toll rose by three people since Saturday night, when a tornado struck.

He said about 600 structures were damaged, the majority of which were single-family homes.

He said that they're still addressing the total amount of damage.

Barineau said the tornado's path was 2 square miles.


7:05 a.m.

Rowlett City Manager Brian Funderburk says 23 people were injured and "huge amounts of damage" from a tornado is widespread but concentrated in southern part of the city.

Rowlett has a 24-hour curfew in the affected areas, which Thunderberg says took a direct hit from the tornado. It isn't known the strength of the tornado's winds.

The extent of the injuries are not known, and officials said there are no reports of missing people.

Rowlett is about 20 miles northeast of Dallas.

Officials also say there were reports of looting overnight.


6:08 a.m.

A fifth person has been confirmed dead in vehicle accidents near the intersection of two major highways in Garland, east of Dallas.

Officer Joe Harn, a Garland police spokesman, said Sunday morning the five were killed in accidents that occurred during a massive storm, but it's unclear if all five were in the same vehicle or how they died.

A tornado is reported to have gone through the suburb east of Dallas, damaging several homes.


11:15 p.m.

Three more people are confirmed dead from the storms near Dallas, the latest fatalities located in Collin County.

Sheriff's Deputy Chris Havey gave no other details of the deaths.

Collin County is about 45 miles northeast of Dallas.

The fatalities in Collin County bring to seven the number of confirmed deaths from a series of storms that spawned tornadoes after dark on Saturday evening.


9:30 p.m.

Four people are confirmed killed in vehicle accidents near the intersection of two major highways in Garland, east of Dallas.

Officer Joe Harn, a Garland police spokesman, said Saturday night the four were killed in accidents that occurred during a massive storm, but it's unclear if all four were in the same vehicle or how they died.

A tornado is reported to have gone through the suburb east of Dallas, damaging several homes.

Harn says there are no active rescues underway, though first responders continue to search houses for anyone trapped after the storms passed.


8:30 p.m.

An official with the Dallas County Sheriff's office says deputies are responding to damages caused by a tornado east of Dallas, including a trailer park ablaze.

Spokeswoman Melinda Urbina said while several emergency teams had been dispatched to Sunnyvale, just east of the Dallas city limits, following reports of trailers on fire and possible injuries in a mobile home park.

Urbina said the extent of the damage was still uncertain but that nearby roads had been shut due to debris and that the damage to the homes was likely extensive enough to render some "inhabitable." The Red Cross was also responding to the scene, she said, and trees were down.


7:05 p.m.

The emergency manager for a county south of Dallas says some homes have been destroyed and damaged during a fierce storm that spawned tornadoes in the area.

Stephanie Parker is the emergency manager for Ellis County, which is about 30 miles south of Dallas. She posted on twitter: "We have destroyed and damaged homes. Please do not get out on the roads if you do not have to."

The National Weather Service in Fort Worth confirmed that a tornado touched down south of Dallas earlier this evening. No other details of damage were immediately available.


6:30 p.m.

The National Weather Service says a tornado was on the ground south of Dallas.

There were no immediate reports of damage, but National Weather Service Meteorologist Anthony Bain in Fort Worth says that the tornado was confirmed by numerous people on the ground and with video. It was located near the town of Duncanville around Interstate 20.

The tornado's trajectory was headed toward downtown Dallas but WFAA television said that it appeared to have lifted off the ground at it moved north.


6:10 p.m.

The National Weather Service says the Dallas area is under a tornado warning until 6:45 p.m.

An Associated Press reporter says warning sirens went off in the downtown area of Dallas.

At Love Field, a major airport in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the public address system warned people to move away from windows in the concourse area.


4:30 p.m.

Inmates from an Alabama correctional facility were evacuated as a precaution to potential flooding caused by the recent heavy rainfall.

Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Bob Horton says 336 inmates were evacuated from the Red Eagle Community Work Center around 12:30 a.m. Saturday. Horton says the inmates were cooperative and moved to three state correctional facilities in Elmore County.

Red Eagle is a minimum security correctional facility and is located three miles north of Montgomery near the Tallapoosa River.

The National Weather Service says the river had exceeded a flood stage of 25 feet to 33.5 feet by 8 a.m. Saturday. The NWS has extended the flood warning for the area until Monday afternoon.


4 p.m.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley praised efforts to restore and improve the levee system while touring the town of Elba, which was affected by flooding.

Bentley visited the town in southern Alabama on Saturday and stopped in at Elba Elementary, where people had taken shelter from the flood waters. He says the levees are expected to withstand the river crest.

The tiny, flood-prone Alabama town was underwater in 1929, which led to the constructions of levees for protection. The city flooded again in 1990 when rising waters overwhelmed levees and again in 1998 when a levee failed under pressure from flood waters.

Bentley declared a state of emergency Friday amid widespread flash flooding that follows several days of intense weather throughout the Southeast.


1:30 p.m.

Mississippi's death toll from this week's storms has climbed to 10.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn confirms two bodies were found Saturday morning in Benton County. He says the bodies were those of two people authorities had been searching for since tornadoes touched down Wednesday.

Further details on where or how the bodies were discovered were not immediately available.

Unseasonably warm temperatures across the southeastern U.S. this week spawned severe weather blamed for deaths in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. A total of 17 people have been killed.


1 p.m.

Volunteers are distributing sandbags in the town of Elba, Alabama, as flooding remained a major concern after severe storms battered the state.

James Brown of the Coffee County Emergency Management Agency says volunteers distributed sandbags in Elba, where the Pea River was projected to crest Saturday at 43 feet, about a foot below the levees that protect the area.

Brown says while that height was much too for much comfort, so far the levees were holding.

Emergency officials issued a voluntary evacuation order for the flood-prone community.

About 17 people took safety in a county shelter. Brown said that, according to estimates, more than 100 structures appear to have water damage.

Gov. Robert Bentley will tour the area later in the day.


11:30 a.m.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley will tour areas in his state damaged by floods a day after declaring a state of emergency in all counties affected by excessive rain.

The governor's office said in a statement that nearly 200 roads in the state are closed due to flooding.

Bentley will visit, among other places, Elba Elementary School, where dozens of flood victims took shelter Friday night.

Unseasonably warm temperatures across the southeastern U.S. this week spawned severe weather blamed for deaths in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. A total of 15 people were killed.


9:20 a.m.

The Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles are bracing for what National Weather Service forecasters are calling a "historic blizzard."

Between 6 to 15 inches of snow are in the forecast for the region, which includes Amarillo and Lubbock. High winds will drive wind chills as low as 10 below zero and cause low visibility due to blowing and drifting snow.

The blizzard warning for the region takes effect at 6 p.m. Saturday and runs through noon Monday.

Other parts of Texas and Oklahoma, including El Paso, are under winter storm warnings, while North Texas, central Oklahoma and central Kansas are under a winter storm watch.

Widespread rain has prompted flash flood watches in eastern Texas, eastern Oklahoma, most of Arkansas, central and southern Missouri and Illinois and central Indiana.


9:45 a.m.

The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings for parts of northern Alabama following days of heavy rain and severe weather.

The NWS says moderate flooding is occurring and major flooding is forecast for Big Nance Creek, which runs through the town of Courtland in northern Alabama. The area is about 40 miles east of Huntsville. The creek is not expected to fall below flood stage until early Monday.

A flood warning was also in effect for the Coosa River, swollen by up to 8 inches of rain over the past week. The biggest town threatened by the rise in the Coosa is Gadsden in northeastern Alabama.

The NWS is warning drivers to stay off roads in areas where flooding is expected.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Most Popular