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Severe weather expected Saturday

A storm system that looks more and more menacing is expected to pummel north Alabama on Saturday afternoon.

The Valley area is expected to feel the brunt of the severe weather from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, according to Kurt Webber, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville.

“The timing of the severe-weather window got a little smaller over the past couple of days,” Webber said.

He said the threat of thunderstorms with 15 to 25 mph winds and gusts up to 40 mph remains strong.

“We do think the threat of tornadoes is not out of the question,” Webber said. “And we could still see some isolated flooding.” He said up to 2 inches of rain is expected for the area Saturday.

Tennessee Valley Authority spokesman Scott Fiedler said to help alleviate possible flooding, the agency is allowing 1.2 million gallons of water to flow through Wheeler and Wilson dams ahead of the storm front.

“Since last week, we’ve been aggressively pushing water through the system preparing for this rain event,” Fiedler said. “Mother Nature plays a good game and there’s a potential for flooding. We are doing this to free up flood storage in our reservoirs.”

Teresa Adams, supervisory park ranger of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, said Saturday’s and Sunday’s Festival of the Cranes schedules have not been altered because of the pending bad weather.

“We’ll watch the weather closely and if there’s a tornado warning, we’ll have everyone move inside the visitor’s center,” she said. “All of our programs for the weekend are inside, but some people could be outside at the observation area.”

The national Storm Prediction Center said more than 18 million people in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma will be at an enhanced threat of storms that could include strong tornadoes and flooding rains.

The area includes several Texas cities including Dallas, Houston and Austin.

A more tightly defined area that includes the Louisiana cities of Shreveport and Monroe and stretches into northeast Texas will be at an even greater risk of damaging winds today, the Norman, Oklahoma-based Storm Prediction Center warned. A key concern in this area is the likelihood of “a relatively focused corridor for damaging wind,” the Storm Prediction Center warned in a briefing Thursday.

“We could see some very strong tornadoes — possibly those that may stay on the ground for some time — not just the brief spin-up tornadoes,” Matt Hemingway, a weather service meteorologist in Shreveport, said.

Wicked weather also will pose a threat to Alabama and Georgia as the system moves eastward on Saturday, forecasters said.

“All modes of severe weather appear to be in play with this system, including the threat of tornadoes in addition to large hail and damaging winds,” forecasters at the weather service’s Shreveport office said in a briefing on the incoming system.

Heavy rains also could cause flooding across the South and part of the Midwest.

The latest forecasts call for up to 4 inches of rain in parts of Texas and southeast Oklahoma, according to the National Weather Service.

Many streams already are at or near flood levels because of earlier storms, and heavy rains could lead to flash flooding across the region, forecasters said. Parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and southern Illinois were under a flash flood watch on Thursday in anticipation of the drenching rains.

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