Powerful storms Friday could bring damaging winds and hail to Southeast

Nearly 45 million people are at risk of severe weather Friday as thunderstorms move east across the Gulf Coast, with caution urged for those along the coasts of Alabama and the western Florida Panhandle.

An enhanced risk (level 3 of 5) for such storms remained early Friday morning across parts of southeast Louisiana and southwest Mississippi, according to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.

“A threat for tornadoes, wind damage and isolated large hail will be possible in parts of southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi after midnight,” the prediction center warned Thursday night. “A strong tornado will be possible, mainly in southeast Louisiana and southwest Mississippi.”

The peak time for the storms in New Orleans is expected to be around rush hour between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. local time, Phil Grigsby, the lead forecaster at NWS in the city, told CNN.

And if a tornado were to occur during the overnight hours, it tends to be more than twice as deadly as tornadoes in other parts of the day — primarily because of the difficulty to warn the public while most are asleep.

The storms were forecast on Thursday to dump hail as large as 2 inches in diameter over Texas and Oklahoma. Reports of those conditions were seen southwest of Oklahoma City.

The storms are expected to continue eastward Friday, with areas from Columbus, Ohio, down to Wilmington, North Carolina, and south toward the Florida Panhandle and the Gulf Coast states affected.

The potential for strong thunderstorms may also impact the Cincinnati, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky, areas, where damaging winds and large hail are possible. The threats heighten around parts of the Gulf Coast, including Mobile and Dothan in Alabama and Pensacola, Florida.

“Some thunderstorms may also contain excessive rainfall rates, prompting the issuance of a marginal risk (level 1 of 4) for flash flooding in Alabama and western Georgia,” the prediction center said.

By Friday evening, rain will begin over much of the East Coast and continue through Saturday, the prediction center said.

“A broad area of 0.5 – 1” of rain, with locally higher amounts in thunderstorms, is expected throughout much of the Eastern US through Saturday before conditions begin to improve from west to east during the evening hours. the center said.

CNN’s Pedram Javaheri and Mike Saenz contributed to this report.

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