STORM UPDATES: 'Wave Two' remains a threat overnight

Tim Lockette, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·5 min read

Mar. 17—Keep checking back. This story will be updated through the day.

6:00 p.m: The Anniston area has fared well so far in today's tornado outbreak, but the acting director of the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency said there's still a threat from storms tonight.

"This was Wave One," EMA director Myles Chamblee said. "There's still Wave Two that's coming through Mississippi right now."

Multiple severe thunderstorms and tornadoes popped up across Alabama this afternoon, part of a storm system that forecasters have been warning about for days.

Southern Talladega County, including Sylacauga and surrounding communities, came under tornado warnings twice, with one of those warnings still active as of 6 p.m. It's unclear how much damage was done.

Calhoun County has been under tornado watch for most of the day, but so far the county has seen only rain. Chamblee said there have been no reports of damage in the county. The watch is set to expire at 7 p.m. but Chamblee expects it to be extended.

Among other things, local officials have their eyes on the tornado warning near Sylacauga.

"If that one continues throughout the area, it could be a problem here," Chamblee said.

Forecasters earlier today predicted a long night of storm warnings, with storms coming through in at least two waves, and possibly sporadically all Wednesday night and well into Thursday morning.

A National Weather Service forecaster earlier today said eastern Alabama could face a risk of tornadoes as late as 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. Thursday.

2:45 p.m.: Parts of Talladega, Clay and Coosa counties are under a tornado warning until 3:15 p.m. The Twitter feed of the weather service announced that a tornado was on the ground near Stewartville in northern Coosa County, headed northeast. Parts of southern Talladega County, including Overbrook, are in the warning box.

1:15 p.m.: Calhoun, Cleburne, Etowah and Cherokee counties are among the areas now under a tornado watch until 7 p.m., the National Weather Service announced at 1:15 p.m.

12:15 p.m.: All City of Anniston facilities will close at 2 p.m. today, the city announced. This includes all community centers, parks, golf courses and Anniston Museums and Gardens. All city facilities will reopen Thursday at their regular times.

Noon: A broad swath of Alabama, including Talladega and St. Clair counties, is under a tornado watch until 7 p.m., the National Weather Service announced shortly before noon.

10:30 am: Anniston and the rest of central and eastern Alabama are in for a long afternoon and night of storm watches today and Thursday morning, as forecasters grow increasingly confident of the threat of tornadoes from approaching storm systems.

The area will see strong thunderstorms arriving as early as 2 p.m., with a final line of storms expected to roll across the state ahead of a cold front. That final wave of storms could pass through the Anniston area as late as 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. Thursday, forecasters say.

"This could be an extended event," said Jim Westland, a forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Calera.

Forecasters for days have predicted that the Deep South will see conditions ripe for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes today. Their warnings grew louder as the day approached. This morning, forecasters released a map showing a large swath of central Alabama — including parts of western St. Clair County — at high risk for "violent long-track tornadoes," winds up to 80 mph and tennis-ball sized hail. Calhoun and most of the surrounding counties are in a "moderate" risk area, but with many of the same effects predicted for the area.

"You don't want to nitpick about which color you're in," Westlake said of the shades of warning on the map.

Most local K-12 schools announced Tuesday that they planned to close early today due to the predicted weather. Jacksonville State University joined them Wednesday morning, with an announcement that the university would close at 12:30 p.m.

Westlake said details of the timing of the storms remains difficult to predict. What forecasters do expect is an afternoon full of storms emerging across the state, and a final line of storms passing through later in the night or early Thursday morning.

"It could come in waves, or there could be a lull, or it could be one storm after the other," he said.

Forecasters in recent days have urged people to make plans for where they'll seek shelter when watches and warnings arrive. Westlake said people should have multiple ways of receiving weather alerts.

"Don't rely on outdoor sirens," he said. "Don't rely on just one way of receiving a warning."

Due to the threat of severe weather, the following schools will be dismissing early on Wednesday:

— Jacksonville State University will close at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

— Calhoun County Schools will dismiss at noon Wednesday and have a remote E-learning day Thursday.

— Anniston City Schools will dismiss at noon Wednesday and have a remote learning day Thursday.

— Jacksonville High School will dismiss at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, and Kitty Stone Elementary will dismiss at noon Wednesday. Students will work remotely from home on Thursday.

— Oxford City schools will dismiss at noon Wednesday and have a remote E-learning day Thursday.

— Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School in Anniston will dismiss at 11 a.m. Wednesday and have a remote learning day Thursday.

— Jacksonville Christian Academy will dismiss at noon Wednesday and delay the state of school for two hours Thursday.

— Faith Christian School will dismiss at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

— The Donoho School will dismiss its lower school students at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday and its upper school students at noon Wednesday. All afternoon activities are canceled.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.