Rain falls

Traffic moves along US 31 in Cullman on Thursday, Jan. 2 as a steady rain falls.

If you’ve got a weather app or two on your phone, you’ve probably been receiving daily alerts about the potential for severe weather this weekend ever since last weekend. For days, TV weather talkers and the National Weather Service have been emphasizing preparedness ahead of a storm system anticipated to arrive overnight Friday, bringing with it the possibility of heavy rain, tornadoes, and even hail as the weekend unfolds.

Though all the alerts might suggest the approaching weather must be especially violent, local Emergency Management Director Phyllis Little says that’s probably — at least hopefully — not the case this time around. In fact, her office routinely receives similar predictions from the National Weather Service, days in advance, for weather of all kinds.

“Their extended forecast is usually about seven to ten days in advance, so the further out you are, of course the less accurate they’re able to be,” Little said Wednesday. “What’s different about this system, and possibly a cause for an extra measure of preparedness, is the fact that the ground is already saturated from the previous rain we’ve been getting.

“Yes, we’re looking at high wind gusts, heavy rains, and the potential for tornadoes. But as saturated as the ground already is, if we get those high wind gusts, that means there are going to be trees down, which in turn means that there will be power lines down as well. And, with falling trees and high winds, there also comes the possibility of property damage this time around as well.”

Based on the latest available NWS update Wednesday, Little said the severe weather is expected to enter North Alabama sometime overnight Friday, with the peak potential to affect the Cullman area on either Friday or Saturday — though forecasts nearer to the storm’s arrival should refine the hour-by-hour window of impact so residents with weekend plans can better prepare.

“As of now, they’re looking at severe storms capable of producing damaging winds, tornadoes, and hail. We’re expecting 1.5 to 2 inches of rain, with locally higher amounts in some areas,” she said. “The wind and wind gusts are expected to increase throughout the day [Saturday], and there could be some flooding concerns. Out of all that, our biggest concern right now is the saturated ground and wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour, which can topple trees.”

In the event of a tornado watch or warning, said Little, public storm shelters will open throughout Cullman County. She advised local residents to always have at least two ways of receiving storm alerts, including a NOAA-approved weather radio. “Don’t just rely on the outdoor siren alert system, because those are by definition intended to alert you if you’re already outdoors,” she said. “You can download multiple weather apps to your phone, and stay near your weather radio. If anyone needs help programming their weather radio, they can come by the EMA office and we’ll be glad to help them do that.”

Although regional media appears to be on high alert for whatever weather’s heading our way this weekend, Little said the volatile wintertime storm system is pretty typical for the season. “It’s not unusual for us to have this type of weather in January. It’s a little warmer than normal, but it’s still not uncommon. There’s nothing we’ve seen so far that makes me think that this is an exceptional weather system.”

Still, she cautioned, the potential for tornadoes, wind damage, and hail — coupled with even more rain that the saturated ground likely won’t absorb quickly — mean that local residents should be cautious as they move about on local roadways this weekend.

“People just need to be aware, especially since this is the third weekend in a row where we’ve had heavy rainfall. We’re going to have some issues with roadways that get underwater — I can tell you that right away. The county road department’s been working on cleaning out culverts the last couple of weekends to help the water drain faster, but still, there’s almost nowhere for the water to go. Driving after dark could be an issue for some folks in those low-lying areas where water may temporarily cover the road, so be alert and be cautious.”

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