Walker County braces for severe weather Saturday


Walker County and much of Alabama was bracing for severe storms and possible tornadoes on Saturday, with a threat timed to start in the area at 10 a.m. and with an impressive line of storms expected to roar through Walker County at mid-day. 

"Winds on Saturday could gust up to 40 mph BEFORE the storms arrive," the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) office in Birmingham posted Friday on its Facebook page. "Higher elevations could see gusts up to 50 mph. These winds could bring down trees and cause some power outages." 

The post was one of a series that day to warn the public to take heed, as forecasters have said tornadoes of EF2 or higher could not be ruled out. Weather warnings have been constant and virtually unchanging throughout the week. 

ABC 33/40 meteorologist James Spann noted in a blog post Friday, "There is a moderate amount of instability; models are probably underestimating the potential instability as surface temperatures should reach the 70s (Saturday) afternoon before the storms arrive." He said wind damage could be fairly widespread, and noted the Storm Prediction Center had expanded the moderate risk level to almost all of Alabama Friday.  

The NWS office posted on Facebook Friday, "On Saturday, it would be a good idea to head to your safe place even for Severe Thunderstorm Warnings. Damaging winds of 70+ mph are possible. Winds of this magnitude can cause just as much damage as a tornado." 

A wind advisory will be in effect from midnight until 9 p.m. Saturday. 

The timing of the threat is said to be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the western third of the state, while the center of the state, including East Walker, would be noon to 6 p.m.

A forecast video on WBRC Friday morning showed the projected progress of a heavy line of storms cutting across the state. The line was expected to hit Walker County around lunchtime, based on the map, although the storms could be faster or slower than projected.

A NWS official said in a briefing early Friday afternoon that regardless of maps or risk areas, the office mainly wants the public to be prepared for the event. 

The official noted the timing for the event has been consistent, entering western Alabama at about 10 a.m. Saturday and leaving eastern Alabama at about 8 p.m. If any area looks more likely to have tornadoes coming, it is possibly that area may be changed to the more severe level of moderate risk, which is the second highest level. A new NWS graphic could come as early as Friday night, but could be more likely Saturday morning. 

Residents are urged not to have multiple ways of getting warnings, as outdoor sirens are only intended to be used if one is outside. They are advised to listen to various other services, such as text messaging, social media, weather radios, TV and radio, and other means. They are advised to come up with a plan to get shelter, have an emergency supply kit is available and know where one will be on a map when warnings are issued. 

Frequent updates will be made on the office's Facebook and Twitter accounts. 

The Saturday forecast for Jasper available on the NWS website at 4 p.m. Friday stated, "Showers and thunderstorms, mainly before 3 pm. Some storms could be severe, with damaging winds. High near 73. South wind 10 to 15 mph becoming southwest in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 40 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New rainfall amounts between 1 and 2 inches possible."

The Walker County Emergency Management Agency confirmed Friday the Pineywoods shelter that has been under construction passed final inspection and will be available for use Saturday.