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Storms with hurricane-force winds, huge hail threaten South

The national Storm Prediction Center said more than 18 million people in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma will be at an enhanced risk of storms Friday that could include strong tornadoes and flooding rains. The area includes several major Texas cities including Dallas, Houston and Austin.

In a briefing early Friday, the National Weather Service said the storms could bring wind gusts of up to 80 mph (129 kph) or faster, the speed of a Category 1 hurricane.

In Dallas, the city’s Office of Emergency Management asked residents to bring in pets, outdoor furniture, grills, “and anything else that could be caught up in high winds to reduce the risk of flying debris.”

“Trampolines are very easy to loft into the air during high winds,” said Matt Hemingway, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Shreveport, Louisiana. “Anything outside that could be blown around could become a projectile.”

“We’re pretty much right in the crosshairs,” Hemingway said of Shreveport. “Damaging winds are our biggest concern because of the widespread nature of that threat, with tornadoes not far behind that.”

Such strong winds are a key concern in an area at greatest risk: A zone that includes parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, the Norman, Oklahoma-based Storm Prediction Center warned.

“We could see some very strong tornadoes — possibly those that may stay on the ground for some time — not just the brief spin-up tornadoes,” Hemingway said.

In western Oklahoma, a severe thunderstorm with hail estimated to be the size of quarters was moving over the Plains during the mid-morning hours Friday. Damage to vehicles was expected from the hail in that storm, the National Weather Service said. Though storms were already forming in Oklahoma early Friday, the main threats for the larger region were not expected until Friday afternoon and evening.

Wicked weather also will pose a threat to Alabama and Georgia as the system moves eastward on Saturday, forecasters said.

Heavy rains also could cause flooding across the South and part of the Midwest.

The latest forecasts call for up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain in parts of Texas and southeast Oklahoma, according to the National Weather Service.

Many streams already are at or near flood levels because of earlier storms, and heavy rains could lead to flash flooding across the region, forecasters said. Parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana were under flash flood watches on Friday in anticipation of the drenching rains.

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