Nightly News   |  May 19, 2013

Millions in the path of severe weather

Violent tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma on Sunday, as severe weather continues to rock the U.S. NBC’s Janet Shamlian reports.

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>>> here tonight, dangerous storms are breaking out across a wide swath of the country from oklahoma into kansas, on up into minnesota. severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches are up in at least six states tonight. in oklahoma city , an ominous wall cloud appeared late this afternoon as all eyes turned to the threatening skies amid a flurry of warnings. already there had been a number of tornadoes that have touched down in oklahoma , including this one we saw a bit earlier in edmond. this has been a topsy-turvy weekend for a lot of paeople in the country's midsection and this weather is on the move. tonight the national weather service says 148 million people are at risk for severe weather from now into tuesday. that's half the u.s. population . we watched as this all unfolded in oklahoma just moments ago. take a listen.

>> go left!

>> big-gun tornado coming down!

>> look at that. folks, that's violent. that's violent.

>> violent tornado ! off to the right. big-time debris cloud. there is large structural debris.

>> it is heading for --

>> right in front of us! dobbs road.

>> it's very dangerous!

>> baseball-sized hail. that is approaching dobbs road. one mile south of waterloo road . you folks in rural areas up there, this is a life threatening, damaging tornado here. it is large and multi-vortex.

>> as they reported in oklahoma a short while ago, our team is in place to cover it all, including nbc's janet schamlian in oklahoma city who spent some time herself taking shelter today. janet ?

>> yeah, that's right, lester. the power lines are still down from last night's storm and here we go again. conditions have gotten worse very quickly here. just within the last hour we heard the tornado sirens multiple times. as you indicated, for the while we were in the back after target store about 100 yards from where i am standing with several dozen other people taking shelt perser. very dramatic pictures and a lot of people watched this unfold live on the weather channel .

>> got a tornado on the ground right now, guys.

>> there is some large debris in the air right here.

>> here had comes. holy smokes .

>> reporter: heavy rains, whipping winds an tornadoes pummelling the central plains .

>> oh! that lightning bolt ripped on through it.

>> this one was on top of the weather channel 's tornado hunt team.

>> we are almost right under the tornado at this point. we can hear the roar. it is right over us but we can still see in contact with the ground farther off toward the northeast.

>> reporter: across the region tonight, more than 30 million people are in the path of the storms. in oklahoma city , 70-mile-an-hour winds took down block after block of power lines .

>> we have more storms coming in tonight. they're going to be severe so we would like to get this up and make sure it is in place before another storm comes through.

>> reporter: 2013 had been one of the quietest tornado seasons on record due to a cold spring . but that ended with last week's assault on texas where six people died in granbury north of ft. worgd.

>> we have one of our stronger upper air disturbances from the spring that's come in from the pacific northwest , pushed its way southeast and now it is gathering up some of that gulf of mexico moisture. we have winds from the southeast that are moist and warm, winds aloft from the southwest. so the turning of those winds allows the storms to develop rotation. we call them super cell thunderstorms and those are the ones that produce lots of dangerous tornadoes .

>> reporter: but an early count, some 22 tornadoes saturday. 19 in kansas, three in nebraska. all within two hours. residents are aware tonight and monday could be even worse .

>> i probably drive back close to oklahoma city and just stay in that under-the. ground parking garage. i just don't take chances with tornadoes.

>> reporter: and no one should, authorities say. a tornado also touched down in wichita tonight but no reports of injuries. there is a clearing now but lester, we're told the very worst of this storm could be still to come tonight and into tomorrow.

>> janet schamlian, hang in there, thanks.