Flood fears rise as wicked storm system tears across southern, central US


Heavy rain Thursday night continued to put the area’s flood protection systems under stress, and as Ohio River waters rise, it’s expected to cause potentially dangerous conditions. The swollen Ohio River will keep rising through at least Monday, according to the latest projections from the National Weather Service, with moderate flooding expected outside of protected areas in the days ahead, There remained significant concerns about potential flash flooding on Saturday with another round of heavy rain expected to move through the area that day, authorities said.
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Kim Nicholson sifts through the debris of her home Feb. 25, 2018, after a storm hit Clarksville, Tenn.(Photo: Lacy Atkins, The Tennessean)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A violent storm system with relentless rains and fierce winds that pounded the southern and central U.S. over the weekend could lead to treacherous flooding in the days ahead.

The system that stretched from Texas to the Canadian maritime provinces left a path of destruction as it cut eastward Sunday:  Homes were leveled, trees uprooted, cars demolished. Three people were killed, two in suspected tornadoes. Emergency crews struggled to keep up with calls from drivers stranded by rising floodwaters in many locations.

Flooding will continue to be a threat this week, Accuweather said, as more rain falls and runoffs continue. Multiple rivers in the central U.S. were already at or projected to reach major flood stage in the next few days. 

The Ohio River is forecast to reach moderate flood stage along much of the southern border of Ohio and West Virginia in the coming days, according to the National Weather Service.

In Adairville, Ky., Dallas Jane Combs, 79, died after a likely tornado struck her home, the Logan County Sheriff’s Department told TV station WKRN. Sheriff officials said Combs was inside the home when it collapsed.


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The body of a male was recovered from a vehicle submerged in floodwaters near Franklin on Saturday, the Simpson County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

In northeast Arkansas, Albert Foster, 83, was killed when his trailer home toppled under high winds, Clay County Sheriff Terry Miller told KAIT-TV.

By Sunday morning, the river gauge near downtown Louisville showed the Ohio River at 34.9 feet. The normal level is about 12 feet. In 1997, the water was measured at 38.8 feet; roughly 50,000 homes flooded and the Louisville area alone saw $200 million in damage.

Cincinnati was battered by record rain. The Cincinnati Police Department reported making numerous water rescues, and road closings seemed to multiply by the hour early Sunday. Many residents had to evacuate; two post offices were relocated.

The weather did exactly what meteorologists feared: It dumped another 2-3 inches of rain on already soggy southwest Ohio communities.

“To put that much water on already saturated soil without much vegetation to suck it up — that was what we were most concerned about,” said Kristen Cassady, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington.

 At least three people were injured and several Clarksville-area homes were destroyed as the system tore across Middle Tennessee. 

Basketballs rest in water surrounded by debris Feb. 25, 2018, after a fierce storm hit in the Farmington subdivision in Tennessee. (Photo: Lacy Atkins, The Tennessean)

A 15-year-old girl hit by falling debris during an Austin Peay State University basketball game was transported to Tennova Hospital in Clarksville for precautionary reasons, according to Kevin Young of the Austin Peay athletics department.

Dawn and Roger Williams of Covey Rise were also at a basketball game in Lebanon when the storm struck. They came home to find almost all of their windows blown out and a 2 by 4 pierced through one of their doors — and a neighbor’s home destroyed, Roger Williams said. 

More: Injuries, at least four homes destroyed as storm rips through Middle Tennessee

More: Flash floods, deadly tornadoes and mudslides: What you missed in Louisville overnight

More: Cincinnati flooding: A day of record rainfall worsens road flooding, disrupts region

In Kentucky, a MetroSafe supervisor told the Courier-Journal that there had been 75 to 100 phone calls of abandoned vehicles, and at least 20 people needed to be rescued from cars and buildings because of rising floodwaters.

In Evansville, Ind., emergency crews were inundated with calls for help from stranded motorists.

“It’s pretty bad out there pretty much everywhere,” said Braden Buss, with Vanderburgh County Central Dispatch Center. “We’re getting high water calls, manhole covers coming off, some residential flooding. Don’t go out if you don’t have to.”

The deaths in Kentucky and Arkansas on Saturday were the first tornado deaths in 284 days, ending the USA’s longest streak of days without tornado deaths since accurate records began in 1950, according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center.

That easily beats the previous record-long streak of 220 days set from June 24, 2012, through Jan. 30, 2013, said Patrick Marsh, a meteorologist at the center.

Before Saturday, the USA’s most recent deadly tornadoes both hit on May 16, 2017, in Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

Long stretches without a single tornado death are becoming more common: All streaks of 200 days or longer have occurred within the past five years, Marsh said.

As for a reason for the streak, one of the main ones is good luck, said Harold Brooks, a tornado researcher with NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla.

However, while fewer tornadoes in recent years is one explanation for the lower death toll, it doesn’t tell the whole story, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s not surprising that the four longest periods on record without a tornado fatality have occurred within the past six years,” weather service director Louis Uccellini said. He said that since the deadly 2011 tornado season — which included the Joplin, Mo., tornado that killed more than 150 people — NOAA has made a concerted effort to improve America’s preparedness and response to tornadoes.

“We’ve invested in faster supercomputers and better models to improve our forecasts and warnings,” Uccellini said. 

An average of 71 people are killed each year by tornadoes, based on data from 1987-2016, the Weather Channel reported.

Novelly reported from Louisville; Miller and Rice from McLean, Va. Contributing: Jessie Higgins and Michael Doyle, Evansville Courier & Press; Chris Smith and Jamie McGee, The Tennessean; Carrie Blackmore Smith, Bob Strickley, Jeanne Houck, Shella Vilvens, the Cincinnati Enquirer; the Associated Press



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