Potentially damaging storms are forecast to rumble across the Florida Panhandle Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
The storms in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties are between the frigid weather earlier this week and more of the same by the weekend. Emergency management officials across the region are bracing for the overnight storms, including Escambia County’s Eric Gilmore.
“The potential threats for [Wednesday] night are damaging winds, some large hail, and potential isolated tornadoes,” Gilmore said. “Rain’s going to be setting and we’re going to see the thunderstorms increase and the severity increase throughout the night – a little after midnight – into Thursday morning, and start tapering off.”
Gilmore has had briefings with emergency crews about the expected severe weather, and he says they’ll be ready to respond -- as they do for every severe weather episode. And they will remain on alert when the temperatures begin dropping – again.
“And then we’ll have cold temperatures as we had before, [but] we don’t expect any issues with icing or anything with this one,” said Gilmore. “We’re preparing for tonight and pending damaging winds and possible tornadoes.”
But emergency management agencies can only do so much. Gilmore says with possible high winds moving through, they need the public’s help, to keep the public safe.
“Anything that could be a potential flying object – as we would in a hurricane – go ahead and secure lawn furniture and anything like trampolines, that like to become projectiles as well,” said Gilmore. “Pick up your yard; have everything locked down or put up in your shed or garage.”
Other rules of thumb include having multiple ways to receive alerts, as part of being “weather aware.”
“Sign up with www.AlertEscambia.com, we’ll send that alert; or any weather bug app or anything,” Gilmore said. “Just have multiple ways to receive alerts if we do have a tornado or we have a threat in the area so you can be notified and can take proper precautions.”
Another source for weather information is the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network app “Florida Storms.” F-PREN’s Jeff Huffman says, as far as this storm system goes….
“We definitely have a risk of severe weather, it just doesn’t appear to be as widespread – or moving as fast – as the Monday storm system.”
That said, Huffman added that because the peak of the storms likely will occur around midnight, it’s important to have a way to get weather alerts.
“So there’s still a possibility of a storm or two that could cause damaging wind gusts; or one that could product an isolated tornado,” Huffman said. “So, late [Wed.] evening and the wee hours of your Thursday morning, make sure you have a way of staying informed and altered to any warnings with this front as it moves through.”
The culprit is an active weather pattern that’s set up because of the tremendous temperature differences involving an historic outbreak of cold.
“And multiple snow and ice events deep down into Texas and Louisiana and parts of Mississippi – even very close to us here in southern and central Alabama,” said Huffman. “The contrast between that and unusually warm weather across the rest of Florida has led to this active zone, where storms fire up.”
But by the first of next week -- when the storms and the chill move away --Northwest Florida and south Alabama are in line to catch a break.
“This will be the last of a series of storms; the weather patterns going to shift and we’re going to have a much quieter pattern developing,” Huffman said. “But for the foreseeable future – and especially [Wed.] night – a risk of severe weather. The front should clear our area around sunrise tomorrow morning.”
And when the frigid weather returns, Escambia County Emergency Chief Eric Gilmore says what do to should be fresh on everyone’s minds.
“What you’ve been doing already; make sure you’re being smart with your space heaters if you’re using space heaters,” said Gilmore. “Make sure your pets, pipes, plants – bring those in and make sure they’re out of harm’s way. What you’ve done the past 24 hours – reenact that again after [Thurs.] morning.”
And if you’re on the road Friday night into Saturday, beware that the freezing temps overnight may cause dangerous black ice in Escambia, Santa Rosa.