James Spann: Rain, storms for Alabama tonight; warm weekend ahead

SHOWERS MOVING IN: An approaching upper trough will bring showers and thunderstorms to Alabama tonight; rain amounts should be in the one-half inch to 1-inch range for most communities over the next 12-15 hours. The air is stable, and the Storm Prediction Center has dropped the marginal risk of severe storms for most of the state. It now covers only the southern half of Mobile and Baldwin counties for tonight.

FRIDAY AND THE WEEKEND: Rain will end very early in the day Friday, and the sky becomes partly sunny with a high in the mid to upper 70s. Then, we will enjoy the warmest weekend so far this year with highs between 78 and 82 Saturday and Sunday. Look for a mix of sun and clouds both days, and while a few widely scattered showers and thunderstorms are expected, a decent part of the weekend will be dry. Showers and storms will become more numerous Sunday night as the next trough approaches from the west.

NEXT WEEK: Rain and thunderstorms are likely Monday; a few strong storms are possible thanks to an unstable air mass expected to be in place. Tuesday looks mostly dry with only an outside risk of a stray shower. Wednesday will feature a good supply of sunshine; then we could see a band of showers and storms late Thursday or Thursday night with the approach of a cold front.

ON THIS DATE IN 1977: A violent EF-5 tornado tore through the northern part of Birmingham. It began around 3 p.m., 4 miles northwest of Birmingham near U.S. Highway 78, and then traveled northeast for 15 miles at 60 mph, crossing Interstate 65. At its widest point, the tornado was three-quarters of a mile wide. More than 150 homes were damaged, with almost 50 destroyed. Twenty-two people were killed, with more than 130 injured. Daniel Payne College near U.S. 78 sustained heavy damage from this massive tornado, with estimates over $1 million. The college, opened in 1880, closed its doors later in 1977, likely a result of the enormous cost and amount of damage. There were six other tornadoes on this day, including five F2 tornadoes and an F3 tornado across north and central Alabama.

PASSENGER JET DISASTER: The same thunderstorm complex was responsible for the crash of Southern Airways Flight 242 in Georgia; it was a flight from Huntsville to Atlanta. The passenger jet went down after suffering hail damage and losing thrust in both engines. Sixty-three people on the aircraft (including the flight crew) and nine people on the ground died; twenty passengers survived, as well as the two flight attendants. One of the initial survivors succumbed to his injuries several weeks later.

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