LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Tornadoes fueled by unusually warm air pummeled the South and Midwest on Friday, killing at least six people and injuring dozens more across Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said storms could do more damage from northern Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico.
Three people died in the Arkansas hamlet of Cincinnati when a tornado touched down just before sunrise, and three others died when a storm spawned by the same weather system ripped up the Missouri countryside near Rolla. A number of storms were also reported in the St. Louis area.
"It sucked me out of my house and carried me across the road and dropped me," Chris Sisemore of Cincinnati told the Associated Press on Friday. "I was Superman for a while. … You're just free-floating through the air. Trees are knocking you and smacking you down."
Sisemore said he tried to crawl under his bed and cling to the carpet, fearful a nearby pecan tree would fall into his home. As he nursed cuts, scrapes and bruises to his arms, knees and back, he recalled opening his eyes as he flew because he didn't believe he would see 2011. "I wanted to see the end coming. You're only going to see it one time and I thought that was it," he said.
In south-central Missouri, Megan Ross, 21, and her grandmother Loretta Anderson, 64, died at a Lecoma farm where their family lived among three mobile homes and two frame houses, Dent County emergency management coordinator Brad Nash said.
Alice Cox, 69, was killed north of Rolla, not far from Lecoma, when a tornado destroyed a home, according to emergency managers in Phelps County.
In Arkansas, Gerald Wilson, 88, and his wife, Mamie, 78, died in their home, and Dick Murray, 78, died after being caught by the storm while milking cows, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said.
In Illinois, a tornado may have touched down in Petersburg, northwest of Springfield, where about two dozen homes were damaged — some severely — and a woman was injured when her car was struck by a falling tree branch. Her injuries weren't believed to be life-threatening.
A tornado was spotted over Interstate 55 in Mississippi while broad swaths of Louisiana and Mississippi were under tornado watches as severe weather moved across the South. An approaching storm front triggered a tornado watch for some west Tennessee counties.
The region has been bracing for severe weather for much of the week. Gulf moisture riding southerly winds pushed temperatures into the upper 60s and 70s on Thursday — ahead of a cold front expected to drop temperatures into the teens this morning.
While spring brings most of the region's tornadoes, violent weather at this time of year isn't unheard of. A February 2008 outbreak killed 31 in Tennessee and 14 in Arkansas, and in January 1999 two separate outbreaks across the South killed 18, including seven in Arkansas.