Nearly 5 million people under intense thunderstorm threat for Christmas Eve

The storm, which threatens the eastern United States with rain, wind and snow during the Christmas holidays, can also trigger severe thunderstorms in the southern parts of the storm as people finish their last-minute vacation preparations.
Similar to a storm that swept across the southeast last week, the storm forecast that will bring a cold front through the southeast by Christmas Eve will have the ingredients needed to produce intense thunderstorms.
The energy of this storm will sink south to the Gulf Coast, which will allow the storm to intensify and pull more moisture out of the Gulf of Mexico. This creates a damp and unstable environment in which thunderstorms can thrive.
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The storm began Wednesday night as the cold front of the storm moved over Louisiana. At 10:52 p.m., CST, the Storm Prediction Center released a tornado watch for parts of southern Louisiana, Mississippi on Wednesday.
As of late Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning, there were some reports of gusty winds from the storms.
The risk of severe storms will continue and even increase on Thursday. Almost 5 million people are in areas likely to be hit by violent thunderstorms.
"The most likely time for severe weather on a regional basis is from the daylight hours on Christmas Eve to the first part of Christmas Eve night," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
As the string of thunderstorms that hit the southeast late Wednesday continues in Alabama, Georgia and the Florida Panhandle on Thursday, more thunderstorms will develop over the Carolinas.
Anyone out and about at the last minute or doing Christmas errands is cautioned that weather conditions and updates from local sources are deteriorating rapidly as thunderstorms can threaten the region with blinding downpours, strong gusts of wind, and even the occasional tornadoes.
"Perhaps the greatest threat to a couple of tornadoes with this particular storm is in eastern North Carolina, as the atmosphere is likely to pile up from surface to air," said Bernie Rayno, AccuWeather's chief on-air meteorologist.
On Christmas Eve night, severe storms can hit central counties on the Florida Peninsula, including areas looted by multiple noxious tornadoes that struck the Tampa area last Wednesday.
Thunderstorms along the east coast can also extend into southern Maryland by Thursday evening. While lightning strikes in Virginia and Maryland can diverge further north, strong gusts of wind can lead to localized power outages and throw around unsecured patio furniture or Christmas decorations.
Late Thursday evening, the serious threat in the southeastern and mid-Atlantic states will subside as the cold front sweeps out across the Atlantic and drier, more stable air mass enters the region. This air mass will lead to a significant drop in temperature on Christmas Day.
Check back often at AccuWeather.com and keep up to date on the AccuWeather network of DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.

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