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Millions of Americans in the Southeast are at risk as a powerful storm system unfolds during the Easter holidays, bringing heavy rain, tornadoes and hail.
The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center said severe thunderstorms were likely to occur Sunday evening, with the greatest threat in Louisiana across the Tennessee Valley.
“The weather is nice today,” said Fox News chief meteorologist Rick Reichmuth during the “Fox & Friends Weekend.” “There are so many people across the South here this Easter Sunday watching the threat of really bad weather. “
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According to Reichmuth, a “really complex storm system” in the central part of the country also brings “heavy snow”, up to a foot, in the upper Midwest.
“It is on the south side of this that we are going to talk about really potentially strong tornadoes throughout the afternoon and evening, everyone should be watching,” he said on Sunday.
The storm center said 95 million people could be affected by the storms. More than 5.8 million people live in the region where the most dangerous weather was most likely, including Birmingham, Alabama, and Jackson, Missouri.
In these regions, thunderstorms can produce long-lived supercells “capable of producing large tornadoes,” the center said.
The NWS Jackson office told residents to prepare for the possibility of long-lasting tornadoes, gusts of wind up to 70 mph, and tennis ball-sized hail until Sunday evening. Storm waves with occasional lulls could continue early Monday, with up to 3 inches of rain possible.
“This could be one of the most important events we have had in a long time here,” said Gary Goggins, weather service forecaster, in a public Facebook briefing. “Take this seriously. “
Communities in the area have also prepared to open storm shelters, although there was confusion in some municipalities about concerns related to COVID-19.
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In a video message posted on the city’s Facebook page on Friday, Alexander City Mayor Thomas Spraggins said residents of central Alabama must find a safe place for themselves because public buildings would not be opened as shelters because of the coronavirus.
“I will pray for everyone to have a healthy and happy Easter,” he said.
But on Saturday, the city’s police department said shelters had been opened after all, with temperature checks done and gloves and masks provided to anyone entering.
“Those looking for shelter WILL ENTER AT THEIR OWN RISK,” said the city.
The initial decision against opening the shelters contradicted a message from Governor Kay Ivey.
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“The National Weather Service and the State Department of Public Health remind Alabamians that the use of shelters and other resources prevails if the need arises,” Ivey said in a statement on Saturday. , according to WBRC.
Forecasters and emergency officials from several states have provided advice on the use of shelters as the tornado season approaches during the pandemic. The NWS office in Birmingham said in a statement that health officials recommend during the pandemic that the first priority during a tornado alert is “to protect yourself.”
Even with these indications, some in the region said they were staying there even with heavy storms forecast.
“I will not go to a storm shelter because of COVID-19,” Jackie Hill-Gordon told WBRC, adding that she and her husband feel safe in their homes with headsets, weather radios and other equipment in case they need it.
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Severe thunderstorms began to erupt on Saturday in Texas, with residents of the city of Del Rio reporting the size of the baseballs.
“It is gigantic. They’re just falling from the sky, ”said one person on Twitter.
Another person reported that a large hail had struck a skylight in his house.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.