A tornado touched down in north Tupelo, Miss. Monday, causing extensive damage, according to the Tupelo Daily Journal newspaper.
According to the newspaper's website, multiple reports indicated that a tornado had touched down. Two gas stations reportedly were destroyed in the storm. West Tupelo also sustained damage, but no injuries had been reported, according to the newspaper's report.
On live TV, a meteorologist was forced to evacuate the studio as a tornado touched down.
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Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton tweeted that Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant had made contact with him and was “sending additional resources our way.” Shelton also said the Red Cross was set up at BancorpSouth Arena, the city’s multi-purpose arena on the east side of its Downtown.
Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency in Jackson, said there were no initial reports of injuries in Tupelo but "extensive damage."
He said he had not yet received detailed enough reports to know what areas of the city were affected.
About 70 miles south of Tupelo in Starkville, Mississippi State closed at 3 p.m. "due to dangerous weather conditions," it's main Twitter account tweeted.
Central and northern areas of Mississippi, including the Delta counties, braced for heavy rains Monday afternoon into Tuesday as 37 counties remained under watch for tornadoes, the National Weather Service said.
Some earlier tornado watches issued for the Delta and north Mississippi expired about noon Monday amid a brief lull in a vast storm system that has pummeled a large area of the nation's midsection and South. But National Weather Service senior meteorologist Mike Edmonston in Jackson, Miss., said conditions will deteriorate quickly as more moisture piles in from the West after a stormy weekend.
"It looks like everything we've been advertising for several days is going to come together," Edmonston said. "We've still got the potential for very severe weather."
Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency Monday in advance of the storms that forecasters warn could trigger tornadoes, heavy downpours, damaging hail and flash floods. The declaration is an administrative tool that allows state officials to position and deploy resources to assist areas that are affected by an emergency. The State Emergency Operations Center also has been partially activated by critical personnel, poised to fully activate if necessary.
"This storm system has the potential to create dangerous conditions, and we are monitoring it closely," Bryant said in a statement. "Residents should not overreact but should make plans now to ensure they are prepared for a variety of conditions, including strong winds and rains and the possibility of hail and tornadoes."
Bryant also urged people to check where they can seek shelter and determine how they will receive emergency information.
A tornado watch issued about noon Monday was in effect until 9 p.m. in 37 counties of southwest, central and north Mississippi. The weather service said the system was generally following a path along the Natchez Trace Parkway from the Jackson metropolitan area into northeast Mississippi to Tupelo and Corinth.
Edmonston said severe thunderstorm warnings had already been issued for areas of the Delta along the Mississippi River. He said more warnings would follow along the path of the storm.
Forecasts called for wind gusts for up to 60 miles an hour and hail up the size of a half dollar and a threat of tornadoes. Forecasters said rainfall would average one to two inches across the regional with up to five inches in areas east of Interstate 55.
Much of Mississippi was under a flash flood watch through Tuesday with the expected heavy rainfall.
Dozens of school systems in north central and north Mississippi let out early Monday ahead of the storm system.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham warned residents Sunday to be prepared for storms with "the potential to be very violent."
The weather service said the chance of rain was 70 percent on Monday afternoon and storms were expected to intensify between 7:30 p.m. Monday and 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. The National Weather Service said the system may bring a few isolated thunderstorms in the Jackson metro area throughout the day, but the really bad weather should arrive after 4 p.m. Monday.