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Strong thunderstorms blast across South, producing at least one tornado

Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET: Damaging winds and at least one tornado struck the South on Friday as part of a large storm system moving across the eastern half of the country that dumped snow on the Midwest, the National Weather Service said.

Thunderstorms raked parts of Alabama and Georgia, then moved east toward the coast through the evening.

In South Carolina, a tornado touched down near the Lexington-Aiken county line and moved into Lexington County, The State newspaper reported on its website, citing the weather service. The State said the Lexington County Fire Service reported that trees were knocked down in the rural area and at least one house was damaged, but there were no injuries.

The Augusta Chronicle reported on its website that high winds downed trees and power lines in the region. Strong winds and large hail were reported in the Charlotte, N.C., area.

Two girls, ages 9 and 12, in North Carolina's Craven County reportedly suffered minor injuries when they were knocked to the ground by lightning after getting off their school bus, WCTI12.com reported. The ABC station's website said the girls were running from the bus to their front door when lightning struck nearby. The girls were up and walking around within minutes after an emergency services crew arrived, the website said.

Winds up to 60 to 70 miles an hour had been forecast, with the strongest gusts expected in parts of the Carolinas and southeast Virginia.

"Although we think there can be some isolated tornadoes, we don’t think that’s the primary threat for today," Steven Weiss, chief of the science support branch at the National Weather Service’s storm prediction center said earlier. "We think the primary threat is going to develop and become more of a wind damage threat as this strong cold front continues to progress eastward of the Appalachians and have new storm development along it." 

By evening, Doppler radar at NBC station WCNC of Raleigh, N.C., showed heavy thunderstorm bands slipping toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Dozens of homes were damaged Wednesday night in a tornado near Rome, Ga., knocking out power and forcing schools to close, local media reported, citing authorities. When asked earlier if Friday's storms would be a repeat of earlier this week, Weiss said: "We hope not."

"For the time being, there may be some locally heavy rain just because there’s a continuation of storms one after the other moving across -- particularly parts of east-central Georgia into central South Carolina and moving into southeast North Carolina at this time," he said.

Part of larger system
The wet weather in the South was part of the "same large storm system that is moving across the eastern half of the country. The northern end of the storm system is associated with colder air and that’s where we’re getting the heavier snows up in that area, particularly across some of the Great Lakes region at this time," Weiss said.

Meteorologist Tim Ballisty had predicted that Chicago could receive "a half foot or more" of snow.

"On Thursday into Friday, look for a stripe of snow to lay down from the Dakotas into Iowa, northern Illinois, far northern Indiana and lower Michigan," he added. "The bulk of the heaviest snow will fall south of Milwaukee -- closer to the Wisconsin/Illinois border."

The storm that blanketed Chicago is now heading Northeast, and the South is also experiencing severe weather. Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Seidel reports.

But NBCChicago.com reported that Chicago largely avoided snowfall, although some of the city's northern suburbs got up to 6 inches, and the most snow -- 8.5 inches -- fell in city of Cary, near to the Wisconsin state line.

The storm also dropped several inches of snow over parts of North and South Dakota on Thursday with some places getting more than a foot of snow.

“This is not unusual to see a storm like this toward the end of February,” said Weiss, noting “we’re certainly not out of winter yet” though there hasn't been a lot of storms this year.

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