Lightning streaks across the sky in Tyler, Texas, as a line of thunderstorms moves in Tuesday night. / Scott M. Lieberman, AP
ADAIRSVILLE, Ga. - A winter tornado that pummeled this northwest Georgia community Wednesday killed one person, flipped automobiles and destroyed entire buildings.
The Georgia storms were part of a huge, violent system that raked the central and southern USA Tuesday and Wednesday as a ferocious cold front roared toward the Eastern Seaboard, blacking out power to thousands, downing trees, damaging homes and wreaking travel havoc. One other person died in Tennessee when high winds knocked a tree into a shed.
Early Wednesday, a solid line of storms stretched all the way from Buffalo to New Orleans, a distance of more than 1,000 miles.
Tornadoes were reported in six states over the two days. During the outbreak, there were more than 500 reports of severe weather, mainly high winds and large hail. There were 20 reports of tornadoes.
Much calmer, but also much cooler, weather is expected for much of the eastern half of the country Thursday and Friday. There are "no thunderstorms forecast" anywhere in the nation either day, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
The storms that spawned the tornado in Georgia moved across the northwestern portion of the state and metropolitan Atlanta, forcing authorities to briefly shut down Interstate 75 and to issue a ground stop at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in Bartow and Gordon counties following the suspected tornado.
Several school systems across the Atlanta metro area, including Floyd, Clayton and DeKalb counties, canceled after-school activities as heavy rain pelted parts of the region.
About 8,500 customers were without electricity at one point, according to Georgia Power. The hardest-hit area seemed to be this community about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta, where there were multiple injuries in addition to the fatality.
Authorities in Adairsville enacted a mandatory dusk-to dawn-curfew, where the storm affected a wide swath of homes and businesses. Many homes had a large "X" on the front door, indicating that rescuers have searched and cleared the residence.
Another tornado hit Wednesday morning near Calhoun, Ga., injuring eight people, some seriously.
In Adairsville, downed and sagging power lines, homes with damaged roofs and uprooted or toppled trees are everywhere.
William Penn and his wife, Dianne, were huddled in the hallway near the front door of their house on Casey Street when the tornado hit. The storm ripped off most of the roof and blew out two windows.
"I was on the porch, and I told William it's about to hit," says Dianne Penn. "As soon as I said that, I saw the funnel and we got into the hall." The Penns say they don't usually see tornadoes this early in the year.
Another death was reported when a large tree blew down on a shed in Nashville, where a man was sheltering, police told Nashville broadcaster WTVF-TV.
In Arkansas, a person was reported injured by lightning during the storm's eastward trek. The storm marched just ahead of a cold front as the volatile system headed toward the Eastern Seaboard, dumping heavy rain in Kentucky and parts of Tennessee.
Thousands were reported without power at one point in Tennessee, where tornado and flash flood warnings were issued for various counties and a tractor-trailer truck was blown on its side by high winds.
Three separate tornadoes were confirmed in Tennessee by the weather service, the strongest being an EF-2 near Mt. Juliet, which had winds estimated at 115 mph.
Entergy Arkansas reported at least 9,000 power outages in several communities around Arkansas at the height of the storm, including in and around Little Rock.
Strong storms moved through a Little Rock suburb and in two spots in northwestern Arkansas, but no tornadoes hit. Power lines fell, trees were toppled, and some homes suffered damage to rooftops around the state.
The tornado death in Georgia ended the nation's longest break between tornado fatalities since detailed tornado records began being kept in 1950, according to the Storm Prediction Center and National Climatic Data Center. Before today, the last one was June 24, when a person was killed in a home in Highlands County, Fla. That was 220 days ago.
The last day with multiple fatalities was June 4, when three people were killed in a mobile home in Scott County, Mo.
Along with the severe storms Wednesday, record warmth spread into the Northeast, in locations such as Washington Dulles International Airport (72 degrees), Wilmington, Del. (70), Buffalo (66), Newark, (65), and Worcester, Mass. (54). The 72-degree reading at Dulles was the location's first January day in five years that hit 70 degrees.
At one point on Wednesday morning, Buffalo was warmer than New Orleans.
Chicago residents also have been whiplashed by recent weather extremes. Workers who suffered through subzero temperatures and brutal wind chills a week ago strolled through downtown without coats Tuesday as temperatures soared into the mid-60s.
While the South coped with severe weather, heavy snow and bitter cold walloped the northern Plains and upper Midwest, according to AccuWeather.
Rice reported from McLean, Va.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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