DALLAS (AP) — Tornadoes touched down in Texas and Louisiana as a powerful storm system that dumped heavy snow in California moved eastward Thursday, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of people and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights into and out of Dallas.
Tornado watches were issued until late Thursday night for Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding areas of Texas where wind gusts could reach 80 mph (145 kph), according to the National Weather Service.
“If your phone’s alerted and you hear sirens, that is for wind speeds as strong as a weak tornado,” the weather service tweeted. “So treat it like one! Get inside, away from windows!”
About 100 miles (160 km) east of Dallas, a twister that hit the ground near the small town of Fouke moved northeast toward Texarkana at 55 mph (88 kph), the weather service said.
North of Dallas, winds brought down trees, ripped the roof off a grocery store and overturned four 18-wheelers along U.S. Route 75. Only minor injuries were reported, police said.
Further east in Louisiana, a tornado touched down near Louisiana State University in Shreveport.
More than 346,000 utility customers in Texas had no electricity as of Thursday evening, according to poweroutage.us.
FlightAware.com reports Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field have tallied more than 400 cancellations total, either to or from the airports.
Several school districts, including Dallas and Fort Worth, canceled after school activities and events because of the forecast.
“This is the same system that struck California and it’s now in New Mexico and will be crossing Texas and then Arkansas,” said Rich Thompson, lead forecaster for the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
He said high winds and large hail posed the greatest threats.
Meteorologists say the storm produced a “once-in-a-generation” snow in California and Oregon with up to 7 feet (2 meters) accumulating in spots.
The snowfall, however, is credited with helping reduce, and in some areas eliminate, drought conditions in California.