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Fires, floods, storms: Mother Nature sends extremes across U.S.

Palmdale, CA - Powerhouse Fire (MGN Online)
Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 11:34am

Tempestuous weather is striking the United States on four fronts. It seems as if Mother Nature is trying to throw much of the nation one extreme or another. Here's a roundup:

First tropical storm of the season?

An area of "disturbed weather" in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Yucatan Peninsula, could bring heavy rain and flooding to the Florida Peninsula and the Georgia and Carolina coasts by Thursday, CNN meteorologist Sean Morris said.

Morris says he'll be watching to see if the bad weather becomes the first tropical depression -- or even the first tropical storm -- of the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30.

At a minimum, the storms could cause a lot of rainfall and flooding on the Florida Peninsula, he said.

Fires

A 32,000-acre wildfire is burning some old-growth chaparral that lies in the western tip of the Mojave Desert in northern Los Angeles County.

Firefighters have brought the Powerhouse Fire 60% under control, said Ed Gilliland of the U.S. Forest Service.

Six homes have been destroyed, but conditions are safe enough to lift evacuation orders and allow people to return to the communities of Green Valley, Leona Valley, Elizabeth Lake and Lake Hughes, authorities said.

Higher humidity and lower temperatures should help firefighters, Gilliland said.

Added Morris: "They aren't expecting gusty winds in that area, so the conditions should be favorable for the firefighters to gain some ground there, which they have been."

In New Mexico, a wildfire is burning nearly uncontrollably in the mountains at Pecos. The Tres Lagunas Fire is only 7% contained and has charred 8,500 acres, authorities said, adding that crews are trying to protect structures in Holy Ghost Canyon.

Floods

The mighty Mississippi River is now at major flood stage in St. Louis, but the worst of it is over and waters will recede this week, Morris said.

The river has risen to more than 10 feet above flood stage.

Downriver, however, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, could face flooding as the surge moves downstream, Morris said.

But the city will be the last along the river to face such a threat, because the river begins to widen south of there, Morris said.

"We're expecting Cape Girardeau to reach major flood stage tonight and crest at the end of the week," Morris said Tuesday.

Crews in West Alton, Missouri -- a town just north of St. Louis where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers meet -- were reinforcing their levees with sandbags. The bridge to Alton, Illinois, was shut down after a temporary flood barricade failed.

On Tuesday, the Mississippi breached a 100- to 150-foot section of the levee close to the confluence, and authorities have notified 43 homes, said Rivers Pointe Fire Chief Rick Pender in West Alton. Water has reportedly traveled two miles inside the levee.

Tornado Alley

Still reeling from deadly twisters, Oklahoma faced a slight risk of thunderstorms Tuesday, but the good news is there's only a slight chance of an isolated tornado, Morris said. There is, however, a chance of large hail and damaging straight-line winds in northwest Oklahoma, he said.

"For most of the state, it's just a very slight risk of severe storms," Morris said.

There is also a slight risk of severe weather for the southern half of Kansas, far northern Texas and southeast Colorado.

Oklahoma's recent storms have killed 19 people, said Shanea Scully, administrative coordinator for the Oklahoma City Fire Department.

The tornado that struck El Reno, Oklahoma, on May 31 was declared to be the widest in history, at 2.6 miles, and its damage rating was raised to EF5, the most severe, the National Weather Service announced Tuesday.

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