NASHVILLE — Severe thunderstorms threatened to unleash an outbreak of tornadoes across a swath of the Southeast on Thursday, forecasters said, forcing residents in several states to brace for hail and powerful winds just days after facing a similar bout of destructive weather.
Portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia faced the highest risk of tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service. That area remains under a tornado watch until 8 p.m., and it includes Birmingham and Huntsville in Alabama and Jackson, Hattiesburg and Tupelo in Mississippi.
Forecasters said that the area could see violent tornadoes and flash flooding. The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado touched down shortly after 1 p.m. in an area southwest of Birmingham, and warned that it was moving toward the city and its suburbs. “TAKE COVER NOW!” the Weather Service said in an advisory.
Officials warned residents to prepare as schools and government offices closed early. “Stay home, stay safe, stay informed,” Andy Berke, the mayor of Chattanooga, Tenn., said on Twitter. In Birmingham, the city government opened safe rooms and put up barricades in areas prone to flooding.
The threat of destructive weather has returned a week after some of the same areas were hit by an outbreak of powerful storms that swept through Mississippi and Alabama before moving on to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. In January, a tornado in Alabama led to the death of a 14-year-old boy living in Fultondale, a suburb of Birmingham; he had been sheltering in a basement with his family members when a tree fell on the house.
Meteorologists acknowledged the likelihood that residents were fatigued by the possibility of dangerous storms returning so soon but urged them not to dampen their vigilance.
“High and moderate risks are not issued because someone ‘feels’ like it,” the National Weather Service in Birmingham said in a social media post. “There is a reason. Shear is there, instability is there, moisture, lift, it’s all there. Will they work out just right and give us those strong and terrible storms? Well, we’ll see. But all the ingredients are there to do just that.”