Forecasters continue to track a line of severe weather moving across Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, part of which is taking dead aim at the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama.
The tracking has been going on for the better part of a week by the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, where Jeff Huffman is chief meteorologist.
“We’ve got an unusually warm and humid air mass moving really far to the north, all the way to Michigan; and right behind that low pressure’s developing in Texas and Oklahoma,” said Huffman. “The ingredients are coming together for what I will call a memorable for many residents of the mid-South. There will be numerous reports of damage.”
Originally, the forecast called for a 12 noon-4:00 window for the most severe weather moving through the Pensacola area. But Huffman says they’re working with updates and data that changed things overnight.
“What hasn’t changed is the severity of this line moving in,” Huffman said. “The squall line itself could produce wind gusts up to 60, maybe 70 mph; that could produce significant damage. And then if there are any thunderstorms that develop just ahead of the squall line, they could also rotate and produce an isolated tornado.”
It’s important that residents don’t panic when the skies darken and the winds pick up. Huffman says there may not be a lot of thunder and lightning, and he reiterates they’ll move in and out rather quickly.
“[To] the Pensacola metro area and the surrounding areas – I’d say be ready and be in your interior location – or your inside location – by 10:30 or 11 a.m.,” said Huffman. “And then from then until about 3:00 in the afternoon – that four-hour window is when I encourage everybody to just stay put [and] plan something indoors.”
Meanwhile, emergency operations are gearing up, just in case.
“Right now we’re going to posture for monitoring the system throughout the weekend; we do have our emergency crews on standby if needed we can call in and call in additional people if we need to,” said Eric Gilmore, Escambia County’s new emergency manager. He spoke with the National Weather Service in Mobile Friday morning, and said they don’t anticipate much rain or flooding.
“We do anticipate more of a wind [event]; a straight-line winds, tornadoes that we’re more concerned about,” Gilmore said. “It look like everything is going to remain kind of north of us for the most part, but our concern is, of course, the super-cells or stronger cells out in front of the front that’s coming in.”
Gilmore was asked at what point would they go beyond the monitoring stage, and actually turn on the lights at the emergency ops center.
“Anything outside our typical Florida thunderstorms that we have; we get those super-cells and everything,” said Gilmore. “[If] we start getting some damaging winds to structures or property or things of that nature; if we have a mass-casualty type of event when we get multiple people hurt, a collapse, we’ll definitely be ramping up our emergency services.”
Gilmore began work this week as EMA director after working for the Florida Department of Health – most recently as regional emergency response advisor for a 10-county region. He also serves Escambia Fire Rescue as McDavid Station chief.
“Nothing like trial by fire, I’ll tell you what,” Gilmore said, laughing. “Hopefully I’ll have stood up to the challenge and everything’s going to go well.”