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Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Clouds gather over the steeple of a church as severe thunderstorms approach Wednesday, April 5, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

This story is developing and was last updated April 5 at 10:16 p.m.

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Severe storms strike Southeast

UPDATE: A tornado watch, severe storm warning and significant weather advisory issued for the area has passed. 

A wind advisory will be in effect tomorrow until 8 p.m. for the entire area. 

The National Weather Service placed Hamilton County under a tornado watch until 10 p.m. EDT. A tornado watch was also in effect for Bledsoe, Grundy, Franklin, Marion, Meigs, Rhea and Sequatchie counties in Tennessee, and Catoosa, Dade, Murray, Walker and Whitfield counties in Georgia.

The storm brought damaging wind, rain and hail to the region.

The Hamilton County Office of Emergency Services asked people to stay close to their local medial outlets for weather information throughout the day. They asked that residents to have an emergency plan for their families, and a 'to go kit' with water, food, medicine and batteries.

The Chattanooga Police Department encouraged motorists to stay off the roadways as much as possible until the weather system passed.

The American Red Cross is on stand-by in the event any shelters will be needed in Hamilton County

The Emergency Operations Center will remain open until further notice. For more information please visit their website at: www.hamiltonready.org

The Bradley County government is asked its citizens to download the nixle app for their phone and email to stay updated on storm information throughout the day.

Residents in Walker County now have three places to go for shelter:

* Walker County Civic Center located at 10054 N Hwy 27 Rock Spring, Georgia 30739.

* West Cove Civic Center located at 5423 W Cove Road Chickamauga, Georgia 30707.

* Villanow Civic Center located at 11471 E Highway 136 Lafayette, Georgia 30728.

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CLOSURES: Chattanooga City Court will be closed this afternoon. All cases are being passed one week to April 12 at the same time.

Southern Adventist University's afternoon and evening classes are cancelled beginning at 1 p.m. today and the campus is officially closed. 

The Jewish Film Series showing of "1945" scheduled for tonight at the Jewish Cultural Center has been postponed to a later date due to the impending storms.

Barking Legs Theater is canceling  tonight's Jazz in the Lounge with the Alan Wyatt Quartet.

Due to the threat of severe weather, UTC will close at noon today. 

All classes are cancelled and offices will be closed. 

The UTC Library, the University Center, and the ARC will also close at noon. Dining will be available at Crossroads.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport sent out a tweet saying they were being issued a ground stop by the Federal Aviation Administration.  

The Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport is warning air travelers to prepare for flight delays and cancellations due to the possibility of inclement weather in the region today.

Hamilton County Schools will now operate for a half day after the National Weather Service reports storms will move in earlier than originally anticipated. 

Schools that start at 7:15 a.m., will begin releasing at 10:30 a.m. 

All afternoon and evening activities will be cancelled today. 

Bradley County Schools is following suit, as school will dismiss at 12:30 p.m. today due to inclement weather coming in. Buses will follow the inclement weather routes, starting at the high schools, middle schools and then elementary. 

The YMCA, BCU and Boys and Girls Club have cancelled services today.

Due to the threat of severe weather, Cleveland City Schools will dismiss two hours early today. All after school activities are cancelled.

For those looking for safe refuge during today's storm, Walker County officials are opening the civic center at noon. The building is located in Rock Spring at 10052 N Highway 27.

Meanwhile, according to a release from a county spokesman, Walker County Emergency Services will open an operations center at noon for local government services to coordinate on how to respond to the storm, if needed.

Collegedale will not be having court today. People scheduled to appear in court today will be contacted by Monday, April 10.

Power outage maps for area utilities

EPB
Hamilton, Walker, Catoosa
https://epb.com/outage-map

Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative
Bledsoe, Grundy, Marion, Sequatchie and portions of Van Buren, Hamilton, Cumberland, Rhea, Coffee and Franklin counties
https://www.outageentry.com/CustomerFacingAppJQM/outage.php?clientid=SEQUACHEE

Georgia Power
All Georgia counties except Fannin, Union and Towns (covered by Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation)
http://outagemap.georgiapower.com/external/default.html

Cleveland Utilities
Greater metro Cleveland area in Bradley County
http://204.238.168.184:1370/

Volunteer Energy Cooperative
Bledsoe, Bradley, Cumberland, Fentress, Hamilton, Loudon, McMinn, Meigs, Morgan, Overton, Pickett, Polk, Putnam, Rhea, Roane, Scott, White
https://ebill.vec.org/woViewer/mapviewer.html?config=Outage+Web+Map

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ORIGINAL STORY: Hamilton County Schools will close early on Wednesday ahead of what is expected to be severe weather. 

School officials announced that students will be released two hours early after the National Weather Service issued a special weather statement warning of an enhanced risk of severe weather.

The federal weather agency reported late Tuesday that wintery conditions at high elevations and severe thunderstorms with damaging winds and large hail up to baseball size in the Tennessee Valley could pose a risk to those in the Chattanooga region. There is also a risk of tornadoes in Southeast Tennessee and southwest North Carolina, the agency also warned. The agency also said it wouldn't rule out a strong localized tornado in these areas. 

Damaging straight-line winds up to 60 miles per hour are possible. 

A cold front moving in on Wednesday night could cause rain to change to snow at higher elevations, causing snow accumulations of from 3 to 6 inches at elevations above 4,000 feed, and from 1 to 4 inches at elevations above 2,500 feet. 

Chief Academic Officer Jill Levine said school administrators want to make sure everyone gets home by 4 p.m., when WRCB-TV Meteorologist Nick Austin said the storms will probably begin.

Hamilton County schools are released in three waves because of the bus schedule. The last schools — mostly magnet and some elementary classes — usually get out at 4 p.m. With the adjustment, Levine said students should be home by 4.

Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade made the call Tuesday afternoon so that parents could prepare early for the change, in case they have to work and need to prepare for someone else to take care of their students.

"We wanted to give parents as much notice as we can," she said.

Austin predicts that storms will hit North Georgia from 8 a.m. to noon. A second storm will hit the tri-state area from 4 p.m. to midnight.

The storms are caused by a warm front sweeping through the area in the morning, followed by a cold front in the evening.

"There's plenty of energy," Austin said.

He added that people in the area can expect some isolated wind damage and hail. There might be a couple of tornadoes, but he does not believe the region will be overrun.

"This is not expected to be a widespread tornado outbreak," he said. "That doesn't mean we won't see a couple of tornadoes pop up. I'm not going to rule that out. But as far as tornadoes, it's not going to be an April of 2011."

Most school systems in North Georgia are on spring break this week, Dade County is an exception, though.

The Times Free Press could not reach Superintendent Jan Harris, but County Executive Ted Rumley sat in on a weather planning meeting with the school administrator Tuesday and later in the evening announced Dade County Schools would be closed Wednesday.

Stay with the Times Free Press for updates as the storm system develops.

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