Torrential rain is drenching large parts of the Southeast, flooding areas that were also deluged by heavy rain late last week. Flood watches and warnings stretched from East Texas to the western Carolinas on Monday afternoon.
Around Birmingham, Ala., schools closed early Monday afternoon because of flooding, while images from social media showed many instances of streams spilling over their banks and high water in poor drainage areas. Reports of high-water rescues were also mounting as cars became stranded in floodwaters.
The National Weather Service office in Birmingham warned that a “life-threatening” flash flood was ongoing, that many roads were impassable and that “conditions are expected to worsen” in some areas.
The Weather Service placed much of the Southeast in an elevated risk zone for excessive rainfall, with the greatest risk from central Mississippi through northern Alabama. In this area, the risk was set at “high,” the most extreme category.
“A dangerous situation is developing across the Southeast today with possibilities of flooding and severe weather,” the Weather Service tweeted Monday.
The Weather Service was predicting between three and seven inches of rain across a broad section of the Southeast through early Tuesday. It warned that “many streams may flood and will potentially affect larger rivers” because of new rainfall and soils near saturation from the heavy rain late last week.
On Facebook, the Weather Service urged residents not to drive through high water. “Driving through flood waters is extremely dangerous — about 2 out of 3 flood deaths occur in vehicles,” it wrote.
The rain was occurring because of a slow-moving cold front lumbering across the Southeast. “Pooling moisture from the Gulf of Mexico will fuel nearly continuous convection over this region,” the Weather Service wrote in a discussion.
Strong to severe thunderstorms were forecast to erupt late Monday afternoon into the evening, with the threat of damaging winds and an isolated tornado, in addition to torrential downpours.
As of Monday afternoon, the Weather Service had identified two zones of particular concern for flooding:
- From northern Louisiana to northern Alabama, it wrote, “a broken band of training showers and thunderstorms is expected to drop hourly rain amounts up to 2” with local amounts in the 3-5” range.”
- From northern Alabama into western North Carolina, it warned that hourly rainfall totals could reach one inch, “with local amounts of 2-3”.”
James Spann, chief meteorologist for the ABC television affiliate in Birmingham, tweeted: “Rain rates are increasing again across the Birmingham metro… A flash flood warning remains in effect. TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN.”
Although the heaviest rainfall was expected through Tuesday morning, another round of showers and storms is predicted to scoot across the Southeast on Wednesday and Thursday, before conditions dry out Friday and Saturday.
The Southeast has seen an abnormally wet start to 2020. Many locations have seen four to eight inches of rain, more than normal and one of the top five wettest starts to a calendar year on record.