Severe weather could hamper post-Thanksgiving travel across the eastern U.S. – NBC News

Heavy rain and strong winds stretched this weekend from Texas to Florida, threatening post-Thanksgiving travel plans, according to the National Weather Service.

Nearly 55 million people were expected to travel 50 miles or more from their homes this Thanksgiving weekend — 98% of pre-pandemic levels, according to AAA.

A deep upper-level low made its way through the Southwest and into the South on Saturday, with impacts on major cities such as Dallas, Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Memphis, Tennessee.

Saturday afternoon, a tornado with sustained winds estimated to have reached 100 mph touched down in the town of Paradis, Louisiana, roughly 30 miles from New Orleans. The storm peeled the roof from a house, flipped an RV, and damaged the roof of a church, said Phil Grigsby of the National Weather Service.

The tornado, 200 yards wide, swept on for nearly three-quarters of a mile, also felling branches, damaging trees, and removing shingles from residential roofs, he said.

A National Weather Service associate happened to be in the area and quickly confirmed the tornado and its damage, Grigsby said. It hit the ground at 2:18 p.m. and was back in the air at 2:20, he said.

Wind advisories were in place for around 9 million people across the Southeast, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Birmingham, Huntsville and Asheville, Alabama. These alerts were in effect from Saturday night through Sunday morning.

The southeastern storm front, moving north and east, is bringing with it warm air from the Gulf of Mexico that’s colliding with lower temperatures and cooler air and producing instability, wind, rain and potent cells, forecasters said.

“We had the cells begin to take on rotation and evolve into this tornado,” Grigsby said.

The front line of the activity had moved out of Louisiana and into Alabama and Florida by Saturday night, he said.

By Sunday morning, the rain will shift into the southeast, mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions, which could threaten morning travel for cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Charlotte, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee.

This wall of rain will eventually arrive in the Northeast by Sunday afternoon, affecting New York, Philadelphia and Boston. The heaviest downpours should end between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., with rain ending by the late evening.

Although the severe weather risk is very low on Sunday, there will be the potential for strong winds and frequent lightning that could hinder travel, especially in the Northeast.

Another developing storm system was expected to continue to bring heavy rain in addition to mountain snow to the Pacific Northwest this weekend, according to the weather service.

Winter weather advisories are in place for parts of the Cascades and Northern Rockies, including northern Idaho, Montana, and southeast Wyoming.

High wind watch alerts are also in place for this region through Sunday, with gusts up to 50 to 70 mph possible. This will create hazardous travel conditions, especially in the higher elevations and passes.

Dennis Romero contributed.