Severe Weather Disrupts Flights as Tornadoes Threaten East

High winds and thunderstorms delayed flights to New York and Atlanta as severe weather raked the Southeast and the eastern U.S.

Planes bound for New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the world’s busiest airport, were being held until storms cleared, according to the Federal Aviation Administration website. More than 500 flights today were canceled, according to the FlightAware tracking service.

Tornado watches, meaning the destructive storms may develop, covered parts of eight states and include Buffalo, New York, Baltimore and Washington, according to the National Weather Service. Severe thunderstorms were also possible for southern Ontario, including Toronto, according to Environment Canada.

U.S. weather service radar showed rotation, a sign of tornado formation, in spots across Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.

“This system is very organized and confidence is high regarding the potential for a major tornado outbreak this afternoon and evening across the central Gulf Coast states and Tennessee Valley extending northward into the southern Ohio Valley,” according to a weather service bulletin.

Yesterday, thunderstorms, hail, high winds and tornadoes led to air traffic delays of more than 90 minutes at airports in the Midwest and East. A Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV) jet slid off the runway at Chicago’s Midway Airport in heavy rain without injury to anyone aboard.

Golden Triangle

Storms in the so-called golden triangle, an area bounded by New York City, Chicago and Atlanta, are most likely to cause air traffic delays and cancellations. About 70 percent of all flight delays are caused by weather, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

At least 678 flights throughout the U.S. were canceled yesterday, according to FlightAware tracking data.

Tornadoes have been confirmed in the deaths of at least 43 people this month, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. The center has received 846 reports of the killer storms since the start of the year. The incidents must be investigated before they are confirmed.

Since 1950, the highest number of confirmed tornadoes to occur in April was 267 in 1974, according to Heather Buchman, an AccuWeather meteorologist.

Heading for Record

“Even though the number of confirmed tornadoes will probably end up being quite smaller, this month is likely to beat the record,” she said.

The storms have also dropped heavy rain onto saturated ground, causing the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and their tributaries to rise. The Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois, is expected to reach 60.5 feet this weekend, a foot above its record, according to the National Weather Service.

The Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, was at 43.89 feet as of 5 a.m. local time, or more than a foot above what is considered major flood stage, according to the weather service.

In Poplar Bluffs, Missouri, about 155 miles south of St. Louis, 1,000 residents were evacuated and 500 structures threatened when levees on the Black River failed, according to the weather service.

The Army Corps of Engineers is considering intentionally flooding 130,000 acres of farmland in southern Missouri to take pressure off the rivers and lower flood waters upstream. The state’s attorney general, Chris Koster, and the Department of Natural Resources filed suit yesterday in federal court seeking to stop the move.

“There are 130,000 acres that will be underwater and of course that will mean there won’t be any crop this year,” said Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau. “The increases in food prices everyone is concerned about, this is a large enough area to make a difference.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at dstets@bloomberg.net

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