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Much of south hit by violent storms
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JACKSON, Miss. -- Fickle December weather prepared to deliver the second blow of a one-two punch to much of the deep South on Wednesday, threatening to blanket some areas with snow after a night of unseasonably warm temperatures produced torrential rains and tornadoes across the region.

Sleet was possible in areas of Louisiana and the National Weather Service issued a winter weather watch for parts of Mississippi, warning that a rare snowfall accumulation was possible.

"We don't have much snow here," said Mike Edmonston, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, Miss. "It is rare at this time of year."

Edmonston said forecasters were predicting 1-3 inches over central and eastern portions of Mississippi, but some areas could see 4 inches or more. Mississippi averages around 2 inches of snow a year and that usually comes sporadically with little accumulation.

The winter precipitation threatened to hit before many people could clean up the mess left by powerful storms and likely tornadoes that damaged at least two schools and dozens of homes in Alabama and Mississippi a day earlier.

At least one person was injured in south Mississippi when a car struck a downed tree on Intestate 59 in Jones county, authorities said. At least 39 houses and mobile homes were damaged in Mississippi as well as three businesses.

Classes were canceled when an apparent tornado ripped off part of the roof of an elementary school in Walker County, Ala., northwest of Birmingham. The storm also damaged more than a dozen homes there. The town's high school also was damaged, but not as heavily.

"The elementary school is probably just totally gone," said Walker County Emergency management director Johnny Burnette. "In spots it ripped the roof off and pulled off the air conditioning units, and (the rain) filled the school full of water."

At least three tornadoes touched down in the Alexandria, La., area, but no injuries were reported.

Authorities also said tornados were spotted - or indicated by radar - near the Louisiana communities of Olla, Jena and Many.

In Central Mississippi's Rankin County, Jay Ryker wore an orange and gray rain suit Wednesday as he assessed the damage to his two-story brick home.

"My dog came and sat down next to me and I could tell he was scared," Ryker said. "Then it felt like the roof was being lifted off. The whole house was vibrating ... We ran downstairs and when we passed the back doors the glass blew in behind us."

No one in the home was injured, despite damage to the roof, windows and siding. There were reports of damaged homes and trees on roadways across Mississippi and reports of large hail.

Residents and authorities braced for a mix of snow and sleet expected to begin Wednesday night and continue into Thursday. With temperatures expected to be above freezing, roads were expected to be slushy in spots, Edmonston said.

Heavy rain caused minor flooding in western Tennessee and 3.44 inches had fallen in Jackson by Wednesday morning, with another 3.5 inches in Memphis and 2.21 inches at Dyersburg, the National Weather Service reported.

A tornado watch was issued for north Georgia Wednesday, including metro Atlanta, as the line of severe storms pushed eastward. The storm was expected to produce winds up to 15-25 mph, with gusts of 30-40 mph in the north Georgia mountains.

The Weather Service says showers will develop in west Georgia and spread across north Georgia as the day continues. Heavy rain is expected to continue into the day on Thursday, before tapering off by late Thursday night.

Such heavy storms develop about once in the region this time of year, said Mike Leary, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Peachtree City.

"You get a big influx of Gulf moisture that's really quite warm," he said. "That sets up instability in combination with the cold front coming down."

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