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14 million face severe weather today as storms head west

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Posted at 10:26 AM, Dec 26, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-26 10:37:19-05

As many as 14 million people in the U.S. are facing severe weather threats today. Parts of the Deep South are trying to recover from tornadoes and widespread flooding as states farther west begin to brace for their own severe weather.

A major winter storm will slam the southern Rockies and the southern Plains on Saturday and Sunday, the National Weather Service said.

That means heavy snow, sleet and possible blizzard conditions could wreak havoc for some travelers headed home this holiday weekend.

Here’s what to expect across the country:

The Southwest

An arctic cold front will swoop down to the Rio Grande area of west Texas, bringing a nasty mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain from there to New Mexico on Saturday and Sunday, the weather service said.

“By Sunday morning, the snow, sleet and freezing rain will expand northeast across the southern Plains,” the NWS said.

“Heavy snowfall amounts of 10 to 18 inches are forecast through Sunday evening across much of western/northwestern Texas, with 18 to 24 inches forecast across portions of New Mexico.”

Metro regions of Houston, Dallas, Austin and New Orleans could see the most risk of severe weather.

Throw in some fierce winds, and parts of the Southwest could see blizzard conditions, the weather agency said. The blizzard conditions could affect people from New Mexico towards the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles–with 1.2 million under a blizzard warning.

In addition to snow, icing conditions are expected from central Oklahoma up into Kansas with ice accumulation and strong winds, making the roads dangerous for driving.

The Deep South

In southeastern Alabama, residents of Elba are anxiously waiting to see what will happen to the Pea River.

After a day of epic rainfall, the river reached 39.3 feet Friday night, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It could rise to 41 feet Saturday evening, Coffee County Emergency Management Director Larry Walker said.

The levee protecting the city is 44 feet tall.

Already, at least 117 homes have been significantly flooded in the county, Walker said. CNN affiliate WFSA said dozens of roads in the county have been shut down.

The city has dealt with massive flooding before. In 1990, Elba was nearly destroyed when the old levee around the town broke.

About three hours north in Birmingham, a possible tornado hit the city, officials said. Three homes collapsed, but only one person was injured.

And parts of Mississippi are trying to clean up from the 10 inches of rain they got for Christmas. Many roads and homes are flooded, Monroe County Sheriff Cecil Cantrell said.

“We’re just a mess here,” the sheriff said. “It’s a really serious situation. We’ve got all our deputies out. We’ve got all the fire departments out. I wasn’t expecting this.”

On Saturday, the sheriff says they will need a lot of patience from everyone to deal with the impact of the weather conditions on the roads and to keep people safe.

In the past week, at least 15 deaths in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas had been linked to the severe weather.

“Severe storms and heavy rain are possible in parts of the Gulf Coast region through the southern Plains to Ohio Valley on Saturday and Sunday, where flooding is possible,” the weather agency said.

The Northeast

After dumping 5 to 10 inches of snow in parts of the Upper Midwest, a weather system will move east and slam central and northern Maine, the NWS said.

Parts of the state could get walloped with 5 to 10 inches of snow.

It’ll be a wild contrast to the record-breaking high temperatures in the Northeast on Christmas Day.

Record high temperatures ranging from 15 to 25 degrees above normal continue for the East today. More more seasonable temperatures are not expected until late next week.