Tornadoes in the South; snow in Plains and Upper Midwest

A damaged women’s prison was running partly on backup power, schools and a major highway were closed for a second day, and an apartment building was evacuated on Wednesday, a day after storms unleashed tornadoes and flooding in the South and dumped heavy snow in the Midwest.

The administration building at the Federal Correctional Institution Aliceville, near the town of Aliceville in western Alabama, was running on a generator, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement. No employees or inmates were hurt by the tornado that struck late Tuesday afternoon at the low-security lockup, which houses about 1,850 inmates, the statement said. In the same region, more than a dozen homes were destroyed by a tornado that touched down in the town of McMullen on Tuesday evening, the National Weather Service said.

The weather service said its survey crews on Wednesday were working to determine how many tornadoes struck and where they hit.

In Georgia, the apartments being evacuated due to flooding before dawn Wednesday were near the town of Fort Oglethorpe, just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the weather service said, citing a report from an emergency manager in Catoosa County, Georgia. No serious injuries were reported.

On Tuesday, tornadoes touched down in Mississippi and Alabama as thunderstorms swept through the region, while a powerful snowstorm buried parts of Colorado and Nebraska in more than a foot of snow before crawling into the Upper Midwest.

Several Nebraska schools and businesses remained closed a second day Wednesday as workers tried to reopen snow-covered roads. Interstate 80 was reopened after a 275-mile stretch was closed from Ogallala east to Lincoln, though other highways remained closed as snowplows pushed aside ice, slush and snow from the massive storm that moved across the state Tuesday.

In south-central Nebraska, more than 18 inches of snow were recorded in Grand Island and nearly 16 inches in nearby Hastings, according to the National Weather Service.  The northeastern Nebraska communities of Verdigre and Wayne had 16 inches of snow, while 14 inches was reported in Norfolk. Utilities reported that electricity has been restored to almost all of the more than 20,000 customers who’d lost power.

In Mississippi, a confirmed tornado was reported just before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in eastern Newton and Lauderdale counties, largely rural areas in the eastern part of the state, said Greg Flynn, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. The storm damaged homes, toppled trees and knocked out power, said Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie.

In Alabama, the National Weather Service in Birmingham reported a "confirmed large and destructive tornado" on the ground in the same general area as the women’s prison, about 45 miles west of Tuscaloosa. Minor injuries were reported.

Later, in west Tennessee, high winds damaged several homes and several buildings at Crockett County High School, the National Weather Service said. Public schools were closed Wednesday to survey damage from the weather.

In Cheatham County, near Nashville, officials said a driver had to be rescued Wednesday when his sport utility vehicle was swept into a flooded creek.

The combination of snow in one part of the country and severe thunderstorms in another isn’t unusual when a powerful system moves across the country, said Greg Carbin with the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.

"February can feature some exciting dynamics in the atmosphere," Carbin said. "This system we’ve had our eye on since it was in the Pacific."

The weather system that blew in from California steadily dumped snow on the Denver area Monday and continued overnight. Heavy snowfall and powerful winds on Tuesday knocked out power, prompt schools and businesses to close, and triggered flight cancellations across a large swath of states from Colorado to northern Michigan.

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