A severe weather outbreak which included destructive tornadoes caused widespread devastation across the southeastern United States. Strong storms are uncommon during winter months.
Strong storms, including some tornadoes, raked across the southeastern US throughout Saturday and Sunday, killing at least 18 people in Mississippi and Georgia.
There were 31 tornado reports from Louisiana to South Carolina on Saturday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as 175 high-wind and 53 hail reports. NOAA received reports on 12 deaths from tornadoes in Georgia on Saturday.
The storms lasted through the night and the whole day Sunday, with at least 80 severe weather reports on Sunday, according to NOAA. A reported tornado cut a large path of destruction in Dougherty County Sunday afternoon, according to the county's chief deputy emergency manager, Sedon Burns.
"We know we have fatalities and a lot of injuries," said Burns, who did not say how many were dead or injured. "And there is substantive damage to one of our trailer parks."
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for seven counties in the south-central area of the state.
"I urge all Georgians to exercise caution and vigilance in order to remain safe and prevent further loss of life or injuries," said Deal.
US President Donald Trump said he spoke with Deal and "expressed our sincere condolences for the lives taken."
The Storm Prediction Center issued a high risk outlook for severe weather in northern Florida, into Georgia and southeastern Alabama for Sunday, before the system started to move northeastward into South Carolina. This was the first time a high risk outlook was issued since 2014.
Unusual in winter
The southern region of the United States usually sees destructive thunderstorms and tornadoes in the spring and summer months. The Storm Prediction Center said that the US sees an average of 38 tornadoes in January, as compared to an average of 268 in the month of May, the month with the most tornadoes.
While not in the notorious Tornado Alley of the Midwest, Georgia sees an average of 20 tornadoes per year, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center. About 75 percent of the world's tornadoes occur in the US.
kbd/kl, se (AP, Reuters, AFP)