Severe storms threaten central US; trucker dies in Oklahoma

SPUR, Texas (AP) — A storm system that’s blamed for the death of a truck driver in Oklahoma barreled eastward Wednesday, putting 21 million people in the central United States at risk for bad weather, forecasters said.

Three storm chasers also died Tuesday in a collision as they raced toward a tornado-warned storm in West Texas, authorities said.

The storms that struck Texas and Oklahoma late Tuesday brought tornadoes, tennis ball-sized hail and powerful winds, but no widespread damage was reported.

It’s just the beginning of what’s expected to be a stormy week in Tornado Alley and in parts of the South.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said an area stretching from Louisiana to central Missouri, including much of Arkansas, could see very large hail, strong tornadoes and powerful winds Wednesday. Parts of Texas were still at risk for storms as the system exited the state, and a tornado warning was issued for the Houston area Wednesday morning.

Forecasters said the storms could intensify Thursday as the system moves past the Mississippi River.

The severe-weather risk Thursday is moderate — the second-highest classification from the Storm Prediction Center. Forecasters said they expect “an active severe weather event” Thursday for parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

In Oklahoma, the truck driver was killed after strong winds pushed his rig off the interstate in El Reno, outside Oklahoma City, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Forecasters confirmed a 95 mph (150 kph) wind gust in the area when the crash occurred.

In Texas, the three storm chasers — including two who were contractors for The Weather Channel — were killed in a collision at a remote intersection near the town of Spur, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) southeast of Lubbock.

The channel said in a statement that Kelley Williamson and Randy Yarnall were “beloved members of the weather community” who had worked as contractors for the channel. The Texas Department of Public Safety said the two died Tuesday along with another storm chaser, 25-year-old Corbin Lee Jaeger of Peoria, Arizona.

Williamson and Yarnall were both from Cassville, Missouri.

Department of Public Safety Sgt. John Gonzalez says a Chevrolet Suburban driven by Williamson ran a stop sign and slammed into a Jeep driven by Jaeger.

Yarnall was a passenger in the Suburban. All three were killed instantly. Tornadoes had been reported nearby at the time of the crash and heavy rain had been reported in the area.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.