Damaging Hail and Tornadoes Threatened for Southeast US

March 19, 2018 - 7:14 pm
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ATLANTA (AP) — Forecasters warned Monday that severe storms forming around the Southeast could threaten more than 29 million people, raising the risk of strong tornadoes, damaging winds and hail the size of tennis balls in coming hours.

Large parts of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee and a small portion of northeast Mississippi were under a severe weather threat Monday afternoon and evening, the nation’s Storm Prediction Center said.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch Monday afternoon for all of north Alabama, including the cities of Birmingham and Huntsville, plus smaller areas in northeastern Mississippi and southern Tennessee. It expires at 11 p.m. CDT.

Forecasters say the storm threat is unusually dangerous because of the possibility of several tornadoes, some of which could be intense. The weather service says hail as large as 3 inches (7 1/2 centimeters) in diameter could fall, and there’s a possibility of wind gusts to 70 mph (115 kph).

Forecasters already have reported hail in Mississippi, and they issued a tornado warning for a section of northwestern Alabama.

School systems from central Tennessee as far south as Birmingham, Alabama, said they were dismissing early, hoping students and staff would have time to get home before the storms moved through.

The threatened storms come one day before the official start of spring, and are “by far the most impressive setup we’ve seen so far this year,” said Kurt Weber, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Huntsville, Alabama.

“We can’t rule out a strong tornado east of Interstate 65 at this point with all the ingredients coming together,” Weber added. “Hopefully not, but definitely a possibility.”

Golf ball to tennis ball-sized hail, which can do serious damage to buildings and cars, was possible, Weber said.

“This is one of those days you want to put the car in the garage if you can,” Weber said.

In Georgia, the highest risk of tornadoes will be in northwest Georgia, including the cities of Dalton, Rome and Cartersville.

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Associated Press writer Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.