Fierce storms may bring tornadoes

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Schools are planning early dismissals and emergency officials are cautioning residents to stay alert today as fierce storms move through the county, bringing with them a threat of tornadoes.

“People need to be prepared and be alert,” said Jeanna Barnes, EMA director for Pike County.

The National Weather Service on Monday placed Pike County under a moderate risk for severe weather today. According to the NWS metrics, a moderate risk means widespread, severe storms are likely and could be “long-lived, widespread and intense.” The severe thunderstorm designation is 4 out of a 1-5 scale, and includes the possibility of strong tornadoes, widespread wind damage and destructive hail.

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“Let’s put it this way,” Barnes said. “The last time I think we were under a moderate risk was Christmas Day 2012, and we had two tornadoes touch down in Pike County that day.”

Although the NWS expects the most severe squall line to move through around 4 p.m., public schools announced plans Monday to dismiss early today.

Troy City Schools will dismiss the Early Childhood Center at 12:30 p.m. and all other campuses at 1 p.m. New Life Christian Academy will dismiss at 12:30 p.m. and the Pike County Schools will dismiss at 1:30 p.m.

“The National Weather Service and local EMA officials have advised that Pike County will experience a severe weather event,” said Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent. “This could include heavy rain, hail, high winds, lightning and possible tornadoes. Although there is always some degree of uncertainty in timing of these events, the best guess at this time is that the severe weather will arrive in Pike County around 4 p.m.

“(The 1:30 p.m. dismissal) will allow for the save travel of busses during their afternoon routes.”

He said all activities for Tuesday evening have been cancelled.

Barnes said weather experts are urging residents to be alert and be prepared. “Don’t just count on the outdoor sirens to alert you … The best way to be informed is through a weather radio,” she said. “But you can also use an app on your phone or tablet.”

She also urged residents to take time early Tuesday to make a safety plan and prepare a safety kit, including batteries and flashlights should they lose power.

The National Weather Service estimates that more than 7 million people in parts of five states — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia — are in an area of enhanced risk for a few strong tornadoes and other severe weather during Tuesday’s storms.

Meteorologists at the national Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, say the areas at highest risk of the most dangerous storms will be in southern Alabama and southern Mississippi, along with slivers of northeast Louisiana and northwest Florida. That area includes the cities of Mobile, Alabama; and Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

The system will bring “a pretty substantial risk for supercells” that could spawn strong tornadoes, but also lines of storms that pose threats as well, said Greg Carbin, a meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center.

“We definitely are starting to move into that time of year where the ingredients for these types of storms are beginning to come together,” Carbin said.

In Louisiana, storms with large hail, damaging winds and isolated tornadoes could hit the New Orleans area from midafternoon Tuesday through early evening, said Andrew Ansorge, a weather service meteorologist in Louisiana.

The storms are forecast to spread east across Alabama and into Georgia and north Florida, posing a threat into the evening, Carbin said.

In Mississippi, forecasters say strong tornadoes could form south of the Interstate 20 corridor.

In Alabama, a large part of the state will be under an elevated risk of storms late Tuesday afternoon through early Wednesday morning, according to forecasts from the weather service. That area — which includes the Alabama cities of Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Auburn and Tuscaloosa — could see tornadoes, winds of up to 70 mph, and quarter-sized hail, the weather service projects.

In Georgia, a total of 3.4 inches of rain is expected in Atlanta from showers and storms Monday through Wednesday, which could produce some flooding, according to forecasts from the weather service’s office in Peachtree City, Georgia.