A wave of destructive storms ripped through several states, causing damage in the Ohio and Tennessee valleys on Tuesday, with multiple tornado warnings impacting millions of people and severe weather warnings spreading across a much wider swath of the country, from the Coast of Gulf to Great Lakes.

Violent wind gusts and heavy rain had already caused serious damage to some areas by mid-afternoon, destroying buildings and forcing highway closures as crews worked to clear downed power lines, trees and other debris.

Where were the storms strongest?

Large swaths of Ohio and Kentucky faced the most serious risks, along with a swath of far eastern Indiana. The Storm Prediction Center's most recent severe weather forecasts placed threats in parts of these states at Level 4, out of five levels, just before 12 p.m. CDT. Level 4 corresponds to “moderate” on this scale. Much of Kentucky and southern Ohio received this warning, including major cities like Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Lexington and Louisville.

A tornado warning was also in effect for parts of central Kentucky and Tennessee, including Nashville and the surrounding area. They expired at 3 p.m. CDT, although forecasters warned that powerful “and potentially long-lived tornadoes are possible from Indiana and Ohio southward into the Mid-South” overnight.

Storm Prediction Center/National Weather Service

“The threat of severe tornadoes could concentrate tonight into today in parts of Alabama and Georgia,” according to the storm forecast center.

A separate tornado warning was in effect until 6 p.m. CDT Tuesday for parts of western Kentucky, southern Illinois, southwestern Indiana and southeastern Missouri. A tornado warning remains in effect until 2 a.m. EDT in parts of central and eastern Tennessee.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday night it was aware of an “unconfirmed tornado impacting the Sunbright community in Morgan County.” No injuries were immediately reported.

About 40,000 homes and businesses were without power Tuesday morning after an electrical substation was struck by lightning, the AP reported. The singular substation affected two other stations causing power outages.

Overall, forecasters predicted that an outbreak of severe thunderstorms could hit parts of each of those states plus northeast Mississippi, southeast Illinois and southwest Virginia throughout Tuesday, noting that “a few intense tornadoes” were among the main dangers, in addition to damage and potentially hurricane force, winds and scattered hail that could be the size of a baseball in some places.

Winds are considered “hurricane force” on the Saffir-Simpson scale when their sustained speed reaches 74 miles per hour or more.

Roads in Charleston, West Virginia, were lined with bricks that impeded traffic, and in some counties, trees were strewn across roads, lawns and cars, the AP reported. Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency for Fayette, Kanawha, Lincoln and Nicholas counties and urged people to “exercise extreme caution.”

A state of emergency was also declared in Kentucky as storms swept through the area and Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said in a statement obtained by the AP; “We have reports of substantial damage to several structures – and, fortunately, to date we are not aware of any deaths.”

What is the difference between tornado watches and tornado warnings?

All storms have the potential to cause tornadoes, but atmospheric conditions need to be unstable in a specific way for this to happen. Forecasters will issue a tornado warning when a mix of atmospheric conditions and severe weather events suggest that a tornado formation is possible in the area, but this does not necessarily mean a tornado will occur.

When a tornado warning is issued, it means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar and that there is imminent danger to life and property. The National Weather Service recommends, if a warning is issued, moving to an indoor room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building, for those outside or traveling to move to a shelter to protect themselves from flying debris.

Images of storm damage from tornadoes

Severe storms had already uprooted trees in Kentucky by noon on Tuesday. CBS affiliate WKYT shared video of some of the damage, which included large branches, logs and other debris scattered across an intersection in a residential part of Lexington. In Nicholasville, another nearby city, authorities said they were investigating “a significant weather event” that impacted an industrial area. Images shared on social media appeared to show at least one structure partially destroyed following the incident.

“We responded to a significant weather event,” a Nicholasville Police Department spokesperson said in a statement to CBS News. “There are no injuries reported.”

Meanwhile, a series of brutal storms battered parts of West Virginia throughout the day Tuesday, with video footage capturing strong gusts of wind picking up debris in the city of Charleston. The National Weather Service he said radar indicated there was a tornado in the Charleston area on Tuesday morning. Forecasters predicted that these storms would subside to some extent as the system moved toward Virginia.

Severe weather West Virginia
A tree covers a road after heavy storms hit Tuesday, April 2, 2024, in Cross Lanes, West Virginia.

John Raby/AP

The tumultuous storm system hit other parts of the country as it continued traveling east. Earlier, when it hit Oklahoma, a 46-year-old woman in Tulsa was swept away by floodwaters Monday night. Andy Little, public information officer for the Tulsa Fire Department, told CBS News that crews were still searching for her Tuesday morning.

Are the strong storms over?

Looking ahead to the rest of the week, forecasters said there is “a small risk” that regions along a large swath of the East Coast and somewhat inland could be hit Wednesday by strong, severe storms. These storms could bring hail, damaging winds and a tornado or two to locations within the risk area, from the Chesapeake Bay to Florida.

Rain and some sleet will hit eastern Massachusetts on Wednesday during the day and at night there will be sleet and possible snow accumulation. Higher elevations in central and western Massachusetts will see wet snow.

Pittsburgh remains under a flood clock until Wednesday morning. Electrical companies are preparing for high winds, hail and high winds that could damage electrical equipment and result in power outages.

Maryland can see severe storms until Wednesday capable of producing intense lightning and heavy rain. and hail.