Blizzard, fires, thunderstorms and tornadoes: 18 states could see severe weather this week

A wild week of weather is on tap for parts of the northern and central USA, including softball-sized hail and a tornado that has already touched down Monday in Arkansas.

Starting Monday, a huge storm will bring blizzard conditions to portions of the northern Plains over the next few days, as well as the chance of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes to a large chunk of the central USA. Wildfires are possible across the southern Plains.

The heaviest snow is expected in Montana, Wyoming and especially the Dakotas from late Monday into Wednesday, AccuWeather said.

"A swath of heavy snow is expected to linger and be slow-moving, allowing for perhaps 2-3 feet of snow to pile up in some locations before the snow ends," said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

The snowstorm could reach historic levels in some areas, such as Grand Forks, North Dakota, where the record for snow in April is 17 inches, AccuWeather said.

Due to the predicted snow, power outages are likely, and "travel will become very difficult to impossible," said the National Weather Service office in Bismarck, North Dakota. "Travel should be restricted to emergencies only. If you must travel, have a winter survival kit with you."

The news isn't all bad, as western North Dakota could use the moisture. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows the region is abnormally dry or in some form of drought. Northwestern North Dakota is in extreme drought, the second-worst category.

Snow from this storm spread into the Northwest, reported: "Cold temperatures have allowed snow to fall at very low elevations on Monday morning, including in the Portland, Oregon, metro area."

The inch of snow that fell in Portland on Monday was the first April snow on record for the city, the Weather Service said. Schools were closed across the region, and more than 50,000 customers were without power due to the storm.

Severe weather likely in central US

The same system delivering snow to the northern Plains will bring a multiday outbreak of severe weather to the central USA. Through Thursday, at least 18 states could be affected, AccuWeather said.

On Monday, severe thunderstorms are likely from parts of northeast Texas to the Ozarks and mid-South. The greatest threat is expected over parts of far eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas, the Storm Prediction Center said.

"Large to very large hail, damaging winds, and a few tornadoes all appear possible," it said.

Heavy, large hail the size of softballs and severe thunderstorms were reported Monday afternoon in eastern Oklahoma and across Arkansas.

And the unstable atmospheric conditions in the area were a perfect recipe for a tornado: One touched down in central Arkansas around 8 p.m., the National Weather Service said, damaging homes along the way and then traveling east at speeds of 35 miles per hour toward the Little Rock Air Force Base.

"This is a particularly dangerous situation! Remain in your shelter!!," the weather service tweeted in caps.

No major damages were observed at the air force base, the base tweeted.

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By Tuesday, the severe storm threat area will expand to include states from Iowa to Texas, where hail, wind and tornadoes are again possible.

"Some of the tornadoes could be strong," the Storm Prediction Center warned. Dallas, Oklahoma City, Kansas City and Des Moines, Iowa, could all see severe weather Tuesday.

The tornado threat will extend into Wednesday, when another widespread area will be at risk of severe storms all the way from Illinois to Louisiana, including Indianapolis, Memphis, Tennessee, and St. Louis.

Along with the threat of severe storms, rainfall totals of 1 to 3 inches are likely from the Ohio Valley into the lower Mississippi Valley from the storm, said. Some areas could see more than 3 inches of rainfall, potentially leading to flash flooding.

Wildfire threat in the Plains

High winds, unusual warmth and drought conditions combine to threaten wildfires over much of the central and southern Plains.

There is an extreme risk of fires for parts of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and into southern Kansas on Tuesday because of the potential for 30 to 40 mph sustained winds, 50+ mph gusts and unusually warm and dry conditions, the National Weather Service said.

"A dangerous fire weather outbreak is possible as a result," it said.

Contributing: Celina Tebor, USA TODAY; Fort Smith Times Record; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Severe thunderstorms forecast in Oklahoma, Texas; Blizzard in Plains