Look for a stormy St. Patrick’s Day in the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama, as a portion of Winter Storm Xylia moves across the region.
The forecast thinking hasn’t changed all that much, according to Megan Borowski -- a meteorologist at FPREN – the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.
“We’re still expecting strong thunderstorms to roll through late Wednesday night into early Thursday morning,” Borowski said. “We could get a couple of strong storms in our area [Wednesday] during the day, but that line of the strongest storms shouldn’t arrive until Wednesday night.”
The main hazard at this point is expected to be isolated tornadoes – some of which could be strong toward the northwestern corner of this region.
“Large hail, also possibly damaging winds in excess of 60 mph as the leading edge of these thunderstorms roll through,” Borowski said. “But of course, as is the case with the line of thunderstorms, pockets of heavy rainfall that could get localized flash flooding, especially in rivers that have a high level.”
“Emergency management will be monitoring the storm; it looks like the biggest impact for us is going to be 1-6 a.m. Thursday morning,” said Travis Tomkins at Escambia County’s Emergency Operations Center.
“So, E.M. will be monitoring that, but we’re also sending additional public safety crews to the north end – Century and Cantonment – to make sure that we’re prepared for it,” said Tomkins.
Not only will the Panhandle be in the tornado watch area, they’re also looking for the possibility of microbursts – sustained winds of at least 70 miles an hour that can pop up without warning.
“The entire county is in a slight risk, but the northern end of the county is in more of a risk; so we’re really making sure that we’re paying attention to what’s going on in the area up there,” Tomkins said. “Our emergency manager and public safety director Eric Gilmore actually live up in that area.”
Microbursts can be just as bad as a tornado, says Tomkins. They can take down trees, damage property and disrupt aviation, among other havoc. Residents are asked to secure any loose lawn furniture or yard decorations.
“That’s the main thing that can cause issues – flying projectiles – so, just like preparing for a hurricane you can secure furniture, secure anything that could launch,” said Tomkins. “If a large wind comes through there and starts blowing that into your house or into your vehicles or anything, it would be a good idea to secure that.”
While the chance of severe weather accompanies the front, FPREN’s Megan Borowski says it’s not expected to hang around for more than about a day.
“We know this to be a quick mover, your typical line of storms that just barrel through and packs our area for a couple of hours; and then we should be clearing later in the day on Thursday,” Borowski said. “And cooler conditions coming for the weekend.”
That cool-down could be winter’s last hurrah, with spring beginning at 4:37 central time Saturday morning.
“We’ll get some northwesterly winds behind this front, and that should drop temperatures to near seasonable levels in the lower 70s,” said Borowski. “We’ll also get a little boost of drier air coming in from the northwest. So it will feel a lot more comfortable – a lot more like spring – a summertime preview for the time being will be fleshed out behind this system on Thursday.”
Since the bulk of the storms will be at night, Borowski urges everyone to have a way – or ways – to monitor the weather and be ready to move if necessary. Travis Tompkins at the EOC concurs, pointing to websites such as www.bereadyescambia.com.
“There’s a link for alert notifications on the right side of the page,” Tomkins said. “If you click that, you can sign up for alerts. Again, it’s going to be a nighttime event; we want to make sure that people are aware. This weather could affect them early-early in the morning. And having some way to be notified is critically important.”