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The threat of possible tornadoes, strong winds and hail in parts of Alabama and Mississippi persisted early Wednesday as a line of storms that loomed over the region for much of Tuesday is expected to weaken as it moves east.
More than a dozen Alabama counties, including Montgomery and the city of Birmingham, in the state’s western and central regions were under a tornado watch through 6 a.m., according to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center. Parts of southeast Mississippi were also under the watch.
Primary threats in the watch area include possibly intense tornadoes, scattered 70 mph wind gusts and hail up to 1.5 inches in diameter, the prediction center explained. A tornado watch means weather conditions are favorable for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms to form in or near the watch area.
“The gradual evolution of a line of storms is expected along a cold front overnight, with damaging gusts and a couple of tornadoes the main concerns,” forecasters said.
Tornadoes that occur overnight can be particularly dangerous because it’s challenging to warn people to seek shelter when they are asleep.
The storms spawned at least 23 tornado reports with most coming from central and southern Mississippi, and others from Alabama and Louisiana. So far, reported power outages have been minimal.
Mississippi State University in Starkville briefly asked students to seek shelter during a tornado warning Tuesday night. Earlier in the day, classes at two of the school’s campuses were taught remotely and some dining halls were closed due to the threat. Regular operations were expected to resume Wednesday, the university said.
In the community of Steens in nearby Lowndes County, a church’s steeple was blown off and a grocery store saw some damage Tuesday evening, Cindy Lawrence, the county’s head of emergency management, told CNN.
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In Alabama, the weather service in Birmingham said it received reports of damage in Greene County, specifically in the Eutaw area.
“This was associated with a storm that produced a tornado debris signature,” the weather service noted.
The same storm also toppled many trees and damaged some homes in the small town of Akron in Hale County. Officials had not received any reports of injuries, Hale County Emergency Management Director Russell Weeden said.
Earlier Tuesday, the storm prediction center issued a rare “particularly dangerous situation” tornado watch, which is typically designated for the most significant severe-storm threats. That watch was in effect for central Mississippi, northeast Louisiana and southwest Arkansas through early Wednesday and has since expired.
Later Wednesday, the storms are expected to shift east and weaken.
Parts of the Florida Panhandle and southeastern Alabama as well as southern and central Georgia are under a slight risk – a Level 2 of 5 – for thunderstorms. The main threats for that region are high wind gusts with a tornado or two are possible.
Thunderstorms are likely Wednesday morning from near the mouth of the Mississippi River northeastward into Georgia, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
“This line is expected to continue moving quickly southeastward across southern AL, the FL Panhandle, and central/southern GA through midday,” the prediction center said.
Some regions in the South, including between Huntsville and Birmingham in Alabama, saw between 2 and 4 inches of rain Tuesday.
“Additional periods of heavy rain will affect the region tonight, potentially pushing some areas to the neighborhood of 5 (inches),” the weather service in Birmingham said.