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Tornadoes, Severe Thunderstorms Rake Much of Eastern U.S.

Storms carrying hail, flooding rain and tornadoes crashed across the Ohio Valley into the South today, damaging homes, snapping trees and knocking down power lines in at least eight states.

Tornadoes touched down today north of Huntsville, Alabama, damaging a high school, said Paige Colburn, an officer with the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency. Twisters also were reported in Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee.

“We’re getting a lot of injury reports and a lot of reports of damage,” Colburn said. She couldn’t say how much damage or how many injuries may have occurred at the school.

A damage assessment was called off about 1:30 p.m. local time because more storms were about to hit, said Candy Sumlin, another officer with the agency. Schools and government offices were closed.

The U.S. Storm Prediction Center warned that parts of 19 states would bear the brunt of “a significant severe weather episode,” the second this week.

Tornado watches were in effect in eight states, meaning the storms had a good chance of forming. Weather service radar tracked potential tornadoes in Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Homes Damaged

Power lines were knocked down and trees or homes damaged in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Illinois, Missouri and Indiana, according to the storm center. A 300-yard wide tornado struck near Posey County, Indiana, about 145 miles west of Louisville, Kentucky, the center said.

Tornadoes ripped across the central U.S. earlier this week, killing at least 13 people, according to the Associated Press. One of those systems was confirmed to be an EF-4, the second-most powerful. It hit Harrisburg, Illinois, leaving six people dead, said the storm center in Norman, Oklahoma.

The same storm system snarled air traffic along the East Coast and brought snow to Boston.

A flash flood watch was issued today for eastern Kentucky. Rain earlier this week left the ground saturated and any new rain will probably cause floods, according to the National Weather Service.

On the northern side of the system, winter storm warnings and advisories were issued for Wisconsin and northern Michigan. Chicago rain is expected to change to snow later today, making travel difficult.

Flights Delayed

Air traffic delays of more than two hours were reported at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s website.

In Milwaukee, 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) of snow may fall, and across northern Michigan as much as 8 to 14 inches may be on the ground by tomorrow.

Light snow and freezing rain is expected in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, according to Environment Canada. Severe thunderstorms with winds of 60 miles (97 kilometers) per hour were being tracked in the states bordering Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, including Buffalo, New York, the weather service said.

Thunderstorms and tornadoes across the U.S. in 2011 killed at least 552, the most in 75 years, and caused $25 billion in insured losses, making them the deadliest type of natural disaster last year, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

From 1991 to 2010, tornadoes caused 30 percent of all catastrophic losses in the U.S., second only to hurricanes, which accounted for 44 percent, according to the institute.

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