Severe thunderstorm warning issued, tornado watch extended for Coast

Clouds hang above downtown Gulfport on Tuesday, February 7, 2017.
Clouds hang above downtown Gulfport on Tuesday, February 7, 2017.

The National Weather Service in New Orleans has extended a tornado watch until 5 p.m. for the three coastal counties in South Mississippi. The watch was issued around 8 a.m.

The National Weather Service has also issued a severe thunderstorm warning for southwestern Harrison County, south central Pearl River County and central Hancock County until 3:30 p.m. A severe thunderstorm was located near Picayune, moving east at 35 miles per hour and quarter-sized hail is possible.

Marble-sized hail was reported in Biloxi just before 2 p.m.

NWS meteorologist Danielle Manning on Tuesday said there is an enhanced risk of severe weather for South Mississippi.

At 1:15 p.m., a strong line of storms were located from Shoreline Park in Hancock County to Biloxi in Harrison County, moving east at 40 mph. The storm is capable of producing wind gusts in excess of 30 mph and dime-sized hail.

The National Weather Service also advises that the storm could intensify.

“This storm system that is moving into the Coast could bring with it the chance for large hail and damaging winds,” Manning said.

Manning said the storm could also produce tornadoes, which were reported in the New Orleans area late morning, around New Orleans East.

A tornado struck NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. A statement from NASA said minor injuries have been reported and an emergency response team is conducting damage assessments.

Leslie Mathes, a Coast Guard worker and Gautier native whose offices are at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility said employees sheltered in place during the tornado and then were released to go home through the storm.

The storm took the front off one of the NASA buildings at the facility, she said.

“You could see the offices inside the building with everything set up, like a dollhouse,” she said. A large warehouse was also destroyed, along with other damage, she added.

“We can’t rule out the system producing an isolated tornado,” Manning said.

The chance of rain for Tuesday is 90 percent through the late afternoon hours. The chance of rain drops to 20 percent for Tuesday night and Wednesday. Highs for Tuesday will be in the lower 70s with winds at 10-15 mph.