James Spann: Cold, soaking rain with thunder hits Alabama

SOAKER: This has been a cold, wet day across Alabama. Despite temperatures only in the upper 30s and 40s, we have experienced a good bit of thunder over the northern counties of the state today thanks to elevated convection and very cold air aloft. Heavier storms have produced small hail in a few places, only hours after some sleet came down early this morning.

Periods of rain and a few thunderstorms will continue tonight as a warm front lifts northward.

REST OF THE WEEK: Wednesday will be considerably warmer as the warm front moves a little north of the region. The day will be cloudy with rain and thunderstorms; the high will be in the 60s. There will be some surface-based instability involved, and the Storm Prediction Center has now moved the marginal risk (level 1 out of 5) of severe storms deeper into Alabama, including places like Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Sylacauga, Clanton and Demopolis.

Some of the storms Wednesday could produce gusty winds and small hail, and there is also a low-end tornado threat. We will watch radar trends carefully.

Thursday and Friday will stay wet with occasional rain and a few storms; highs will be in the 60s. Additional rain amounts of 3 to 6 inches are expected, and a flood watch remains in effect for roughly the northern half of Alabama.

THE ALABAMA WEEKEND: Saturday will be warm and breezy with a high in the 70s; a decent part of the day should be dry with just a few scattered showers. Then, a cold front will push a line of strong to severe storms into the state Saturday night. For now the main threat seems to be strong straight-line winds. But this event is still several days away and it is too early to really define the specific threats. It looks like the main threat of heavier storms over the weekend will come from 4 p.m. Saturday to 4 a.m. Sunday.

Drier air moves into the state Sunday with a clearing sky and a high in the 60s.

NEXT WEEK: Monday will be dry, but clouds return Monday night, and Tuesday looks wet with periods of rain. The rest of the week looks rain-free.

ON THIS DATE IN 1884: The “enigma outbreak,” thought to be among the largest and most widespread tornado outbreaks in American history, struck on Feb. 19–20, 1884. As the precise number of tornadoes as well as fatalities incurred during the outbreak are unknown, the nickname “enigma outbreak” has come to be associated with the storm. Nonetheless, an inspection of newspaper reports and governmental studies published in the aftermath reveals tornadoes (or, more likely, long-track tornado families) striking Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, with an estimation of at least 50 tornadoes. In Alabama, at least 13 were killed in a tornado that moved from Oxmoor, in what is now the Homewood area, northeast through the Cahaba Valley. The most intense damage was in the industrial area of Leeds, where new, well-constructed homes were destroyed, some of them swept away along with their foundations.

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