Severe weather could hamper your travel, outdoor plans for Memorial Day weekend

A series of storms is forecast to unleash dangerous weather conditions across the central and eastern U.S. through Memorial Day weekend, likely snarling traffic and delaying flights during one of busiest travel periods of the year.

Friday's weather remained relatively calm throughout the day in many regions, which boasted comfortable temperatures for an early start to the holiday weekend. But weather advisories were in effect in several areas of the Midwest, where a handful of storms barreled through Friday morning.

Those storms brought winds as high as 70 mph and heavy rain Friday to small towns still reeling from powerful winds, rain and tornadoes from earlier in the week, including Greenfield, Iowa, where a twister killed four people, injured 35 others and damaged more than 150 homes on Tuesday.

In southwest Oklahoma, at least one tornado touched down late Thursday, the weather service said. Repair efforts were underway Friday after multiple houses were damaged, including one that had its roof blown off, according to local media reports. In Nebraska, softball-sized hail fell as strong winds uprooted trees and tangled power lines. As of Friday morning, over 25,000 homes and businesses were without power across Iowa and Nebraska, according to a USA TODAY outage tracker.

Meteorologists in the weather service's Quad Cities office on Friday warned of high winds and the potential formation of tornadoes in Iowa and Illinois throughout the day.

"An arcing line of severe storms continues to move east at 60 mph this AM. The primary threats are damaging winds, with embedded tornadoes possible in northwest IL," the weather service said. "After this line moves out, WE ARE NOT DONE! More strong to severe storms are possible this afternoon."

A corridor stretching from northeastern Texas and the Tennessee Valley to Missouri and Illinois – where more than 45 million people live – faces the greatest risk of floods, damaging winds and possible tornadoes on Friday, according to the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center. The cities in the crosshairs of the various storms include Dallas, Chicago, Indianapolis, Memphis and Milwaukee. Flood watches and warnings were in effect throughout eastern Arkansas, northern Mississippi and western Tennessee, where 2-3 inches of rain had fallen.

The persistent threat of severe weather comes on the heels of deadly storms that, since last week, have ravaged the Plains and Midwest, especially the Texas cities of Houston and Temple, and Greenfield, Iowa. Over the last week, at least nine deaths, dozens of injuries and millions of dollars in damages have been tied to the nonstop severe weather outbreak.

Weekend forecast: Plains, Midwest face unrelenting storms

Through the holiday weekend, the Plains and Midwest regions, which for the last several weeks have been battered by potent and deadly storms, will face a constant threat of tornadoes.

Meteorologists forecast "several strong to violent tornadoes, extreme hail, and corridors of widespread wind damage" throughout the central and southern Plains on Saturday. A moderate risk of severe storms – a 4 on a scale of 5 – is concentrated over Kansas and Oklahoma, with Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Wichita being the cities in the threat zone.

The storms are forecast to shift northeast on Sunday, bringing severe thunderstorms over parts of eastern Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. A much larger area of the Midwest and south-central U.S. is in the path of the storm system, too. By Monday, meteorologists expect the poor weather to expand into the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.

"Thunderstorms this weekend will not only threaten outdoor events such as weddings, barbeques and camping trips, but they can be dangerous across the Great Plains to the East Coast," according to AccuWeather.

Over 43 million people to travel during stormy holiday weekend

With the unofficial start to summer meeting a ferocious stretch of severe weather, travelers across the central and eastern U.S. may experience delays on the roads and at airports.

Nearly 44 million people will travel 50 miles or more over the Memorial Day holiday travel period, which is from Friday, May 23 to Monday, May 27, according to projections from The American Automobile Association. Over 38 million people will travel by car, while more than 3.5 million will take flights.

Planes land and take off from Harry Reid International Airport on October 14, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Planes land and take off from Harry Reid International Airport on October 14, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

"We haven't seen Memorial Day weekend travel numbers like these in almost 20 years," Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a statement. "We're projecting an additional one million travelers this holiday weekend compared to 2019, which not only means we're exceeding pre-pandemic levels but also signals a very busy summer travel season ahead."

On Thursday, storms forced officials to temporarily ground flights at New York City's two major airports, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Hundreds of flights were delayed across the mid-Atlantic and New England, including at airports in Boston, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

Cleanup, recovery underway in the aftermath of devastating storms

Across the central U.S., construction crews, utility workers, emergency responders and residents worked to clear the immense wreckage left in the wake of recent storms.

In Greenfield, Iowa, dozens of volunteers joined authorities from around the state to assist in the recovery after the town was decimated Tuesday afternoon by a powerful tornado. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said at the news conference Thursday that the response has been remarkable. "I was on the ground yesterday and I can't even tell you the amount of debris that has been collected and hauled off," she said.

Construction crews work to begin recovery efforts on Thursday, May 23, 2024, after a powerful EF4 tornado hit Greenfield, Iowa, on Tuesday.
Construction crews work to begin recovery efforts on Thursday, May 23, 2024, after a powerful EF4 tornado hit Greenfield, Iowa, on Tuesday.

In Houston, authorities worked to repair buildings that were damaged by storms that barreled through the city on May 16, killing eight people and knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses, most of which has been restored this week. The city's emergency management office said several roads will be closed through the weekend as waste management workers continue collecting storm debris.

In Temple, a city about 60 miles north of Austin, emergency responders were clearing downed trees, piles of wreckage and restoring power following a tornado that damaged homes and left several people with minor injuries on Wednesday. In Bell County, which encompasses Temple, more than 25,000 utility customers were without power on Friday, according to a USA TODAY outage tracker.

National weather radar

Contributing: Gabe Hauari, USA TODAY; José Mendiola, Des Moines Register

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Severe weather could put a damper on your Memorial Day plans