Long-track, intense tornadoes are expected to begin in parts of Louisiana and Arkansas on Wednesday afternoon and then spread eastward and peak at night in Mississippi and Alabama, the center said
In all, about 45 million people are under a severe weather threat from the storms and could see tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds. Adding to the concern is that nighttime tornadoes can be more dangerous given that people are sleeping and may be unprepared to take immediate shelter.
The risk level for tornadoes and severe storms was raised to the highest possible level — 5 out of 5 — a rare incident, the center says
. The last such high risk was issued in May 2019 when the central Plains were hit with dozens of tornadoes and flash flooding.
On Wednesday, tornado watches are in effect until 2 p.m. ET for parts of southwestern, western and central Arkansas, northwest Louisiana, far east Texas, northern Mississippi and southern Tennessee, including Little Rock and Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Oxford and Tupelo, Mississippi; and Memphis. Damaging wind gusts to 70 mph and large hail are also possible.