Fox News Weather Center

7 dead as tornadoes rip across southern US days before Christmas

On a day when many were putting final touches on holiday plans or traveling, destructive tornadoes struck the southeastern U.S. as severe storms rattled the region.

Seven people were killed on Wednesday as a result of the storms. Four fatalities were reported in Mississippi, two in Tennessee and one in Arkansas.

In Pope County, Arkansas, an 18-year-old woman was killed when a tree crashed onto her home. Four other people in the house survived, according to CNN.

A seven-year-old boy was killed in Holly Springs, Mississippi, while in a car with his family. At least 40 people throughout the state suffered injuries.

Mississippi tornado kills four, causes extensive damage

Northern Mississippi suffered some of the worst damage due to a tornado with an exceptionally long track, according to the National Weather Service. If confirmed to be continuous, its 150-mile-long path could be the longest for a December tornado in the mid-south, NWS Memphis said.

The Storm Prediction Center received 23 tornado reports on Wednesday from Alabama to Illinois, an unusually high number for one outbreak at this time of the year.

In Austin, Arkansas, police officers pulled off a dramatic rescue after a delivery van was struck by lightning on a highway. When Officer Joshua Chaplin arrived at the scene, the inside of the vehicle was engulfed by smoke and the driver was shouting for help. Chaplin managed to break the passenger window and pull the driver to safety.

"An unusually warm and moist atmosphere combined with an approaching cold front sparked severe thunderstorms, setting the stage for tornadoes," AccuWeather Meteorologist Ed Vallee said.

Conditions in December are typically not as conducive for such an event to occur. Southerly winds created a volatile atmosphere that led to the high number of reported tornadoes, he said.

Strong tornadic winds topple truck on Mississippi highway