This story was updated March 19, 2018, at 11 p.m. with more information.
More than 29 million people face a threat of severe storms Monday that could bring hail the size of tennis balls, damaging winds and strong tornadoes to the southeastern United States, forecasters said.
Large parts of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee and a small portion of northeast Mississippi will be under a tornado threat Monday afternoon and evening, the national Storm Prediction Center said.
An enhanced risk of severe storms covers several large cities, including Chattanooga, Nashville, Birmingham, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa, forecasters said.
The National Weather Service has issued a severe weather alert for the Chattanooga region through 8 p.m. tonight. High winds and damaging hail are possible.
Temperatures in the Chattanooga area are expected to dip Tuesday as the cold front moves in, bringing lows down to freezing, or close to it, in some areas.
Higher elevations might see a few flurries, WRCB meteorologist Nick Austin said.
In Georgia, the highest risk of tornadoes will be in Northwest Georgia, including Dalton, Rome and Cartersville.
School systems from central Tennessee as far south as Birmingham said they were dismissing early, hoping students and staff would have time to get home before the storms moved through.
The threatened storms come one day before the official start of spring, and are "by far the most impressive setup we've seen so far this year," said Kurt Weber, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Huntsville, Ala.
"We can't rule out a strong tornado east of Interstate 65 at this point with all the ingredients coming together," Weber added. "Hopefully not, but definitely a possibility."
In Alabama, any strong tornadoes, golf ball to tennis ball-sized hail and 70-mph winds were most likely in the northern half of Alabama, including all of metro Birmingham. Hail of that size can do serious damage to buildings and cars, Weber said.
"This is one of those days you want to put the car in the garage if you can," Weber said.
WEATHER ALERTS FOR THE CHATTANOOGA AREA HAVE EXPIRED
Due to the impending inclement weather scheduled to hit the area this evening, the events scheduled for Camp Jordan Park and the East Ridge Community Center have been cancelled. Both facilities will close at 5 p.m. today. The East Ridge Library will close at 6 p.m.
Due to the forecast of an increased likelihood of severe storms in the area this afternoon after bus routes have completed, Hamilton County Schools has canceled all after-school activities for today. After-school childcare for school-age children will continue to operate until 6 p.m., but parents are encouraged to pick up their children earlier than 6 p.m. if possible.
Due to the cancellation of all after-school activities by the Hamilton County Department of Education today, all Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Youth Orchestras rehearsals and the Etude/Prelude Concert scheduled for this evening at CSAS have been cancelled. The concert will be rescheduled.
The CSOYO will resume regular rehearsals next Monday, March 26.
The system has also canceled The Hamilton County Schools Listening Session scheduled for today at the Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts. An announcement will be made soon with a new date for the meeting.
All Georgia Northwestern Technical College campuses will be closing tonight at 6 p.m. due to severe weather. All evening classes and activities are canceled.