SAN ANTONIO » Tornadoes swept through the Dallas area after dark on Saturday evening causing significant damage while a blizzard was blanketing parts of New Mexico and West Texas with snow, the latest in the nation’s freakish winter weather pattern that sent temperatures plunging to near zero wind chill in the western Plains even as numerous record highs are forecast for the eastern U.S.
The Texas tornadoes shifted the national focus away from the Southeast where days of tumultuous weather including tornadoes left 18 people dead over the Christmas holiday period.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Anthony Bain in Fort Worth said two or possibly three tornadoes touched down in the Dallas area although the full extent of damage would not be known until daylight Sunday.
WFAA television in Dallas showed video of damage to homes, a church and vehicles stretching from Garland, about 20 miles northeast of Dallas to Glenn Heights, 20 miles south of the city.
The emergency manager of Ellis county south of Dallas, Stephanie Parker, posted on twitter: “We have destroyed and damaged homes. Please do not get out on the roads if you do not have to.”
The twisters — accompanied by torrential rain, wind and some hail — were part of a weather system that could produce major flooding from north Texas through eastern Oklahoma, eastern Kansas, western Arkansas and parts of Missouri.
The severe weather snarled air traffic in the Dallas area. The Dallas Mavericks NBA game was delayed by 30 minutes because of the storm.
On the other side of Texas and including much of New Mexico, a snowstorm accompanied by plunging temperatures was expected to leave up to 16 inches of snow through Sunday evening, according to NWS meteorologist Brendon Rubin-Oster in College Park, Maryland.
“It’s going to be quite dangerous for anyone exposed to these elements,” Rubin-Oster said.
Snow fell as the Sun Bowl college football game between Miami and Washington State Saturday afternoon and El Paso was forecast to get 6 to 8 inches of snow overnight.
Meanwhile, two more deaths linked to weather were reported Saturday in Mississippi, bringing that state’s death toll from severe weather over Christmas to 10. Late Saturday, one death was reported in Alabama.
Flash flooding closed roads across Alabama and trapped motorists in rapidly rising waters.
Ranager Tyler and his son waded into flood water Christmas night and used rope to pull an 11-year-old boy out after his family’s car was swept away near Pinson, about 15 miles northeast of Birmingham.
“The little boy was hanging on to the back of the car,” Tyler said Saturday.
The family’s car was overcome with flood water and ended up in a ditch near Tyler’s Pinson home. The rushing water separated the family as they got out of the car, he said. The boy was later reunited with his family.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said 56 injuries were reported. In a statement, Flynn said preliminary damage estimates show 241 homes were destroyed or severely damaged.
More than 400 homes in total were affected, he said. Severe storms are forecast for Sunday night through Monday as a strong cold front pushes through. Tornadoes are possible, and residents are asked to remain alert.
The flooding is the result of heavy downpours that have thrashed the southeastern U.S. since Wednesday, bringing record rainfalls in some areas. Four inches of rain walloped the city of Mobile, Alabama, on Wednesday — smashing the previous record of 2.2 inches set in 1990.
Six people were killed in Tennessee, including three who were found in a car submerged in a creek, according to the Columbia Police Department. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said Saturday that authorities were monitoring areas for possible flooding.
One person died in Arkansas, and dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed.
One bit of good news for the battered Southeast was a forecast for calmer weather on Sunday. Temperatures in the eastern third of the country could set numerous records Sunday, Rubin-Oster said. Washington, D.C. could see a record daily temperature of 73 degrees Sunday, New York City 65 —which would break a record of more than 50 years —and Orlando, Florida could tie a record of 86 set in 1921.
Contributing to this report are Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant in Dallas, Chevel Johnson in New Orleans, Jonathan Landrum in Atlanta, and Dylan Lovan in Louisville. Chandler reported from Montgomery.