Memorial Day Storms Ravage States, Leaving Trail of Tragedy

A truck stop at Lone Oake Road and Interstate 35 on Sunday, May 26, 2024, after severe storms hit Valley View and Cooke County, Texas on Saturday.

A series of intense storms swept over the central and southern U.S. during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 22 lives and leaving a trail of devastation, including destroyed homes, businesses, and power outages.

The destructive storms caused fatalities in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kentucky. They occurred just north of an oppressive, early season heat wave that set record temperatures from south Texas to Florida.

Forecasters issued warnings that the severe weather could shift to the East Coast later Monday. They advised the millions of people enjoying outdoor activities for the holiday to remain vigilant and monitor the skies. A tornado watch was issued from North Carolina to Maryland.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, who earlier declared a state of emergency, announced at a press conference on Monday that five people had lost their lives in his state. A 54-year-old man died from a heart attack while cutting down fallen trees in Caldwell County in western Kentucky, the governor’s office reported.

The death toll of 22 also included seven deaths in from a Saturday tornado that tore through a mobile home park, and eight deaths across Arkansas.

Two individuals died in Mayes County, Oklahoma, located east of Tulsa, authorities confirmed. Among the injured were guests at an outdoor wedding.

The most recent community to suffer extensive damage and power loss was the small Kentucky town of Charleston, which was directly hit by a tornado on Sunday night. Governor Beshear reported that the tornado appeared to have remained on the ground for approximately 40 miles (64 kilometers).

Severe weather and tornadoes moved through Kentucky on Sunday afternoon and Sunday night, May 26, 2024.

“The situation is dire,” said Rob Linton, a resident of Charleston and fire chief of nearby Dawson Springs, which was also struck by a tornado in 2021. “Trees are down everywhere. Houses have been displaced. Power lines are down. There is no access to utilities whatsoever – no water, no electricity.”

Further east, some rural areas of Hopkins County that were impacted by the 2021 tornado near the community of Barnsley were once again damaged on Sunday night, according to Nick Bailey, the county’s Emergency Management Director.

“Many people were just beginning to rebuild their lives, and now this,” said Bailey. “It’s almost the same location, the same homes, and everything.”

Governor Beshear has visited the area where his father grew up several times to participate in ceremonies where individuals who lost everything were given keys to new homes.

These visits came after a series of tornadoes during a catastrophic night in December 2021, which claimed the lives of 81 people in Kentucky.

“It could have been far worse,” said Beshear, referring to the Memorial Day weekend storms. “The citizens of Kentucky are highly aware of severe weather due to our past experiences.”

Over 400,000 customers across the eastern U.S. were without power as of Monday afternoon, including approximately 125,000 in Kentucky. Earlier in the day, twelve states reported at least 10,000 outages, according to .

The area on highest alert for severe weather Monday was a vast swath of the eastern U.S., stretching from Alabama to New York.

President Joe Biden expressed his condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones. He stated that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is on the ground conducting assessments, and he has reached out to governors to determine the necessary federal support.

The past month has been marked by a grim series of tornadoes and severe weather in the nation’s midsection.

Tornadoes devastated Iowa last week, resulting in and dozens of injuries. Storms earlier this month. The severe thunderstorms and deadly twisters have occurred during a historically active season for tornadoes, coinciding with that intensifies the severity of storms worldwide. April had the on record in the country.

Harold Brooks, a senior scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, attributed the recent string of tornadoes over the past two months to a persistent pattern of warm, moist air.

This warm, moist air is situated at the northern edge of a heat dome, which is bringing temperatures usually experienced at the peak of summer to late May.

The heat index — a measure that combines air temperature and humidity to indicate the perceived temperature — approached triple digits in parts of south Texas on Monday. Extreme heat was also forecast for San Antonio and Dallas.

In Florida, Melbourne and Ft. Pierce set new daily record highs on Monday, both reaching 98 F (36.7 C). Miami set a record high of 96 F (35.5 C) on Sunday.

—Schreiner reported from Louisville, Kentucky. Associated Press reporters Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.