Threat of tornadoes across the South 2 days before Christmas
Storm damage Wednesday in Arkansas. KAIT photo
By JEFF MARTIN, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) - Southerners in large parts of Louisiana and Arkansas awoke to tornado watches on Wednesday, two days before Christmas. Forecasters warned that the pain could soon spread, with powerful tornadoes, thunderstorms and flooding possible across Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and parts of Georgia.
The biggest threat for tornadoes Wednesday will be in a region of 3.7 million people in northern Mississippi, western Tennessee, and eastern Arkansas, as well as slivers of southeast Missouri, southern Illinois and western Kentucky, according to the national Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma.
"Multiple tornadic supercells" will be possible in that area from midday Wednesday through the afternoon, the Storm Prediction Center said in an advisory.
In Alabama, heavy rains overnight left some downtown Mobile streets flooded during the morning rush hour. The city was under a tornado warning before the workday began, but no touchdowns or damage were reported.
Across Mobile Bay in the small town of Loxley, Mandy Wilson was watching the angry gray sky and telling drivers to be careful as she worked a cash register at Love's Travel Stop.
"It's very ugly; it's very scary," Wilson said. "There's an 18-wheeler turned over on I-10. There's water standing really bad. It's a really interesting way to spend Christmas Eve eve."
The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa said it would suspend normal operations at noon Wednesday because of the severe weather threat. Shelters on the campus will remain open, the university said in a statement.
In Georgia, a flood watch was posted through Friday evening for northern and central parts of the state, including all of metro Atlanta. A total of more than 4 inches of rain could fall in some spots in Georgia by Friday night, the National Weather Service said in its forecast.
The threat of severe weather just before Christmas is unusual, but not unprecedented in the South, said Greg Carbin, a meteorologist at the national Storm Prediction Center. On Christmas Day in 2012, a storm system spawned several tornadoes across the South and damaged homes from Texas to Alabama.
Forecasters said that by Wednesday night, the severe weather threat could shift east into the southern Appalachian Mountain region.
Once the strong storms clear out, forecasters say, the high temperature in Atlanta on Christmas Eve is expected to be in the mid-70s. That could break the record for Dec. 24, which is 72 degrees set in 1984, according to weather service records.
Associated Press writer Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.
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