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Damaging Storms Strike Southeast, Eye Gulf Coast

UPDATED 8 PM EDT, March 18, 2013

UPDATED By WeatherBug Meteorologist, Fred Allen

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Powerful thunderstorms continue to roll across the Southeast this evening, starting the workweek off on a dangerous note. The threat will shift all the way to the Gulf Coast, with the chief concerns being strong wind gusts, large hail and a few tornadoes.

Powerful thunderstorms with a lengthy history of damaging winds and large hail are continuing their destructive trek through southern Mississippi, Alabama and central Georgia this evening. Cities in the immediate path of these destructive thunderstorms include Montgomery, Ala., and Hattiesburg, Miss.

A Tornado Watch is in place for east-central Alabama and western Georgia, including metro Atlanta and Montgomery, Ala. Severe Thunderstorm Watches stretch from southern South Carolina to extreme northeastern Louisiana, including Rome and Savannah, Ga., and Hattiesburg and Meridian, Miss.

The line of intense thunderstorms will push all the way to the Alabama and northwestern Florida Gulf Coast late this evening into tonight. Just like their northern counterparts, threats within the strongest thunderstorms will include damaging wind gusts exceeding 70 mph and hail larger than golf balls. The storms that are able to form in the moist, Gulf of Mexico air ahead of the main line will also support a brief tornado potential as well.

Cities that need to be on the lookout for dangerous thunderstorms tonight include the Interstate 10 cities from Mobile, Ala., to Tallahassee, Fla., with Dothan, Ala., and Columbus and Atlanta, Ga., also potentially seeing a fresh thunderstorm or two.

The storms are being triggered by a vigorous cold front dividing warm and humid air flowing northward off the Gulf of Mexico with cold, Canadian air sweeping into the Middle Mississippi and Tennessee valleys. This clash of air masses will serve as the focus for maintaining the line of storms all the way to the Gulf Coast tonight.

So far today, there have been 176 severe weather reports spanning from Tennessee to Louisiana. Of that, the most significant was a thunderstorm wind gust of 77 mph in Columbus, Miss., where 15 large trees were blown down, cutting out power to half of Lowndes County. A 67 mph gust was measured around Grenada, Miss., while multiple structures were damaged and 18-wheelers were blown from a highway. Meanwhile, an off-duty National Weather Service employee measured a hail stone the size of a grapefruit from a thunderstorm that ripped through Clinton, Miss., this afternoon!

Luckily for the Carolinas and Florida, the same front won`t produce severe weather as it runs into more stable air on Tuesday.

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