Some mountainous areas of Arkansas' Ozark Mountains could get up to 10 inches of snow, which would make travel "very hazardous or impossible" in the northern tier of the state from near whiteout conditions, the National Weather Service said.
The holiday may conjure visions of snow and ice, but twisters this time of year are not unheard of. Ten storm systems in the last 50 years have spawned at least one Christmastime tornado with winds of 113 mph or more in the South, said Chris Vaccaro, a National Weather Service spokesman in Washington, via email.
The most lethal were the storms of Dec. 24-26, 1982, when 29 tornadoes in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi killed three people and injured 32; and those of Dec. 24-25, 1964, when two people were killed and about 30 people injured by 14 tornadoes in seven states.
Quarter-sized hail reported early Tuesday in western Louisiana was expected to be just the start of a severe weather threat on the Gulf Coast, said meteorologist Mike Efferson at the weather service office in Slidell, La.
Storms along the Gulf Coast could bring winds up to 70 mph, heavy rain, more large hail and dangerous lightning in Louisiana and Mississippi, Efferson said. Furthermore, warm, moist air colliding with a cold front could produce dangerous straight-line winds.
The storm was moving quickly as it headed into northeast Louisiana and Mississippi into the late afternoon and early evening, said Bill Adams at the weather service's Shreveport, La., office.
In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant urged residents to have a plan for any severe weather.
"It only takes a few minutes, and it will help everyone have a safe Christmas," Bryant said.