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With less than a week until the beginning of spring (March 20), residents in the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama will get a preview of storms that are typical of the Vernal Equinox.
“This is a situation [of] the first real push of juicy, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico; the atmosphere is going to be quite unstable Wednesday night into early Thursday morning,” said Jeff Huffman, a meteorologist at the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network (FPREN) in Gainesville.
“There’s going to be numerous watches and warnings out and I just want to remind you, don’t’ focus on the area that’s got the greatest risk,” Huffman said. “Because I do believe the greatest risk, the most widespread of the storms, will occur to our north,” said Huffman. “But even here in the Pensacola area we’re going to be unstable enough through the night Wednesday night that we could have some rough weather here after dark.”
The main part of the winter storm — dubbed Xylia — is expected to affect numerous states in the Plains and the Midwest. For example, some motorists in Colorado have been rescued, and officials in Nebraska and South Dakota are telling residents to stay off the roads. Closer to home, Huffman says the storm’s effects could parallel those of a tropical storm.
“All modes of severe weather are possible, including tornadoes; damaging wind and hail,” Huffman said. “And this is one of those situations where you look on a map, [and] it’s going to look like the worst will miss us to the north and west.”
But while predictions are now keeping the main thrust of Xylia well away from this area, Huffman says those outlooks always make him a bit nervous.
“Because that means Pensacola and the western parts of the Panhandle will be unstable; it’s different when the severe weather comes off the Gulf,” said Huffman. “This is a situation where we’re already going to become unstable ahead of the system, and a lot of it’s going to be to the north and west first of Wednesday. So there’s a lot of concerns that those storms will still be capable of producing the severe weather here in our area Wednesday night.”
With the winds picking up substantially Wednesday night into Thursday morning, one saving grace, says Huffman, is that this part of Xylia is fast-moving.
“The rainfall shouldn’t add up too much, but there could be multiple rounds of storms; in about a 12-hour window, that could lead to one to three inches of rain,” Huffman said. “And the winds, of course, could be really strong when some of these thunderstorms move in – possibly 60-70 mph in the strongest cell. So we encourage our listeners to have a way of staying informed, especially in the overnight hours Wednesday.”
The best advice FPREN’s Jeff Huffman can give, is to treat Winter Storm Xylia as a tropical storm.
“Where you secure lawn furniture and you just make sure there’s not a lot of loose objects flying around; you don’t want to be that guy that your trash can blows through a neighbor’s window,” said Huffman. “I would go ahead and do some small preparations Tuesday, just in case we get those strong storms Wednesday and Wednesday night.”
After Xylia’s departure, look for cooler weather early Thursday morning and through the weekend, with daytime highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s to near 50 degrees.