MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Getting ready for Christmas meant more than last-minute shopping and present-wrapping this year in Alabama as emergency planners spent Monday preparing for what forecasters said could be a holiday marred by severe storms, possible tornadoes and hurricane-force wind gusts.
With the National Weather Service saying there is a high risk of twisters and damaging winds on Tuesday, the director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, Art Faulkner, said he was briefing both local officials and Gov. Robert Bentley on plans for dealing with a possible outbreak.
"The likelihood of severe storms has increased," he said.
Forecasters said storms would begin near the coast and spread north through the day, bringing with them the chances of storms, particularly in central and southwest Alabama. Strong storms are possible from eastern Texas into southwest Georgia, officials said.
No day is good for severe weather, and Faulkner said Christmas adds extra challenges because people are visiting unfamiliar areas. Also, people are more tuned in to holiday festivities than their weather radio on a day when thoughts typically turn more toward the possibility of snow than twisters, he said.
"We are trying to get the word out through our media partners and through social media that people need to be prepared," Faulkner said. "We'll have people ready to go in case it does turn bad."
Out shopping with her family at a Target store in Montgomery on Christmas Eve, veterinary assistant Johnina Black said she wasn't worried about the possibility of storms on the holiday.
"If the good Lord wants to take you, he's going to take you," she said.
Derrick Taunton, 46, of Montgomery said he was concerned about the weather but probably not enough to change plans for a Christmas Day trip to see relatives in the town of Butler in southwest Alabama, which the weather service said was particularly at risk for severe weather. Taunton said the big concern for his two daughters was "about Santa getting wet."
In Mobile, where a weak twister hit five days before Christmas, forecasters said a strong cold front moving in from the west would mix with a powerful low pressure system to create moist, unstable air that would spread north. Storms could begin popping on Christmas morning, while many people are gathered in homes opening presents, and get worse through the day.
By afternoon parts of the state could have isolated tornadoes, large hail and straight-line winds of 60 mph to 80 mph, forecasters said. Visiting Alabama from New York for the holidays, 25-year-old Jenifer Jones said she really wasn't worried about all that.
"I'm going to be in the house," Jones said as she got in the car to head to another store for more shopping.
Faulkner said the potential for injury may be lessened because many people travel on the day before or after Christmas rather than being on the road for the holiday. Travelers should keep an eye on weather radar before venturing out during the day, he said.
"People may need to travel earlier or later depending on where they are going," said Faulkner.
Tornadoes last hit the Southeast on Christmas Day in 2006, causing damage in south Georgia and Florida.