Rapidly changing temperatures could cause severe weather across a large swath of the country.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Midwesterners who had briefly swapped puffy coats for sandals and shorts switched back Tuesday as balmy conditions gave way to severe storms that carried a risk of tornadoes, freezing rain and, later, snow.
Record high temperatures across a swath of the central United States were being followed by thunderstorms and strong winds from Texas to Alabama and as far north as Michigan.
The temperature in the central Missouri college town of Columbia reached 77 degrees on Monday, a record for January, and students exchanged their winter coats for shorts and flip-flops as freezing rain gave way to spring-like conditions. The cold was expected to make a quick return, however, with early-morning snow on Wednesday.
In Kansas City, where the temperature reached 74 on Monday, people who had been jogging in shorts and T-shirts were chased off Tuesday by thunderstorms and swiftly falling temperatures. Snow was forecast for late Tuesday and into Wednesday.
The rapidly changing conditions created a risk of tornadoes, and the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the threat was greatest in northeast Texas, northern Louisiana, northwest Mississippi, southeast Missouri and much of Arkansas. The system was expected to hit much of the eastern United States on Wednesday.
On Monday, the National Weather Service predicted a "moderate" risk of severe weather more than 24 hours out, only the fifth time it had done so in January in the past 15 years, said Gregory Carbin, the director of the Storm Prediction Center.
A system pulling warm weather from the Gulf of Mexico was colliding with a cold front moving in from the west, creating volatility.
"We expect many reports of damaging winds before the night is out, as well as tornadoes," said Bill Bunting, operations chief for the Storm Prediction Center.
The nation has had its longest break between tornado fatalities since detailed tornado records began being kept in 1950, according to the Storm Prediction Center and National Climatic Data Center. The last one was June 24, when a person was killed in a home in Highlands County, Fla. That was 219 days ago as of Monday.
The last day with multiple fatalities was June 4, when three people were killed in a mobile home in Scott County, Mo.
Associated Press writer Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.