ATLANTA (AP) — The National Weather Service is advising pastors to have someone monitor the weather during Palm Sunday services this weekend amid heightened risk for damaging tornadoes in parts of the South.
A line of storms is expected to bring gusty winds and hail and potentially strong tornadoes on Saturday to Louisiana, Mississippi and some parts of western Alabama, said forecaster Adam Baker in Georgia.
Thunderstorms will move into Alabama and Georgia on Sunday, when many churches may have larger-than-normal crowds for Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for Christians. All of north Georgia, including the Atlanta area, faces an enhanced risk for severe weather, and the threat extends as far north as southern Ohio.
The National Weather Service said there is a possibility of isolated tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds. The weather service office in Birmingham advised pastors to figure out the safest location for their congregations in case of severe weather.
A series of tornadoes on Palm Sunday in 1994 killed 40 people in Georgia and Alabama, including 20 people at Goshen United Methodist Church in northeastern Alabama. The dead at the Alabama church included the young daughter of the minister.
At Highlands United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, the Rev. Mikah Hudson said a plan was in place in case Palm Sunday is a severe weather day.
"We'll never forget the tornado that was so devastating to Goshen United Methodist Church to the clergy and congregation," Hudson told WIAT-TV. "Anytime we are aware of the possibility of severe weather, particularly on Palm Sunday, I have to say most of us clergy think of that time."