At least one tornado east of New Orleans an EF-3, winds up to 206 mph

Tornadoes shredded parts of Louisiana Tuesday, prodded by an unseen antagonist high in the atmosphere and ahead of a cold front that will push through Florida this week.

The National Weather Service reported this morning that at least one of the tornadoes that hit in eastern New Orleans was an EF-3, carrying winds of between 158 mph and 206 mph.

The severe weather — long-lived and brutal along the Gulf Coast — is expected to carry less rancor when the front reaches South Florida late Thursday. While thunderstorms are possible in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, the biggest effect is expected to be a drop in daytime temperatures by as much as 10 degrees on Friday.

Temperatures today and tomorrow in West Palm Beach could reach record-challenging highs of 85 degrees. Friday, is forecast to reach just 73.

See: Photo gallery of Jan. 23 tornado that tore through North Palm Beach County

Meteorologists at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., do have Florida highlighted as an area for thunderstorms tomorrow into Thursday, but the turbulent kink in high-level winds that helped create Tuesday’s tornadoes has since passed through.

Still, Bill Bunting, chief of forecast operations for the Storm Prediction Center, cautioned that people should keep an eye on Thursday’s cold front.

“You’re not in a threat level at the moment, but we saw on the 22nd that the threat was further north and then it reached into South Florida,” Bunting said, noting the Jan. 23 tornado that hit North Palm Beach County. “This is a good reminder that no matter what the time of year, the threats can exist, especially on days when thunderstorms are expected.”

Watch: Marthe Savard-Stranix survives tornado in Juno Beach home. 

The Storm Prediction Center had warned of the possibility of damaging thunderstorms for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Tuesday, but as the day wore on, the area of concern crept further east, deep into Florida’s Panhandle and south to Tampa.

Three Florida counties — Escambia, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa — were under an hours-long tornado watch, while Jacksonville forecasters warned of possible nickel-size hail and wind gusts to 55 mph.

While the breadth of destruction in Louisiana was still preliminary Tuesday, the National Weather Service reported at least three tornadoes near New Orleans, including one east of the city that injured about 25 people and damaged 60 homes.

As of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, weather service officials said there could have been up to five tornadoes, but that the seven “number floating around is a good value for the number of parishes affected.”

Three survey crews are being sent out this morning to piece together how many tornadoes there were.

Related: North Palm Beach County tornado confirmed with winds up to 90 mph

James Thomas, who lives east of the city, told the Associated Press he saw a tornado coming, put on his motorcycle helmet, and huddled in his bathtub. When it was over, his house escaped damage, but his neighborhood did not.

“It’s bad,” he told the Associated Press. “I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Related: Unique tornado study focuses on deadly Dixie Alley

At NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, one employee Tweeted he hid in a bathroom as a tornado touched down at 11:25 a.m. A statement on the facility’s website said only minor injuries were reported and the damage to buildings was still being assessed.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency.

“This is such a complex weather situation that has developed,” said Dan Kottlowski, a senior meteorologist with Accuweather. “This is something we would see more in April.”

But Florida Climatologist David Zierden said it’s not unusual for the Gulf Coast and areas of Florida to see tornadoes this time of year, especially when La Nina is helping keep the southeast warmer than normal.

“This warmer weather we have been having helps set the stage, providing more instability and moisture for the storms to work with than when the weather is colder,” Zierden said this morning.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

A low-pressure system over the Great Lakes is trailing a lengthy cold front that stretched Tuesday night through the center of the country into eastern Texas. The counterclockwise churning system pulled warm, moist southwest winds into the Gulf Coast, while at the same time a turbulent kink in the winds high in the atmosphere coaxed supercell thunderstorms to explode.

Cold air aloft and rising warm air at the surface is a recipe for an atmospheric powder keg, said James Elsner, a tornado expert and geography professor at Florida State’s Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies.

“It’s already springtime here along the Gulf Coast so there’s all that warm moist air coming up and there is still a lot of cold air up north coming down,” he said. “It’s that difference in temperature that helps cause the storms.”

The area of the Gulf Coast targeted Tuesday has been dubbed “Dixie Alley” for its abundant tornadic activity.

Alabama tops the nation for the highest number of average annual tornado deaths at 27, according to Storm Prediction Center data from 2005 to 2014. Missouri is second with 21, followed by Tennessee’s 11 and seven in Mississippi. In the same period, Florida averaged two deaths a year.

As of late Tuesday, no deaths were reported from the tornadoes in Louisiana.

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Elsner didn’t want to speculate on the strength of Tuesday’s tornadoes, but images show roofs ripped from homes, houses reduced to sticks, gas station canopies crumpled and tractor-trailers tipped over.

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Bill Bunting, chief of forecast operations for the Storm Prediction Center, said since 1950 there have only been 19 years where tornadoes of EF-2 strength or greater have occurred within 50 miles of the New Orleans International Airport. An EF-2 tornado has wind speeds between 111 and 135 mph.

“The potential for bigger storms was certainly there,” Bunting said. “But even if you saw something that looked pretty impressive from, you can’t always judge from a picture.”

The southwest winds that helped ignite the tornadoes will also drive temperatures up in Palm Beach County today. Highs near 85 degrees are possible in West Palm Beach.

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