Weather update: Ga. Power: Over 1,600 area homes without power

Update (3:58 p.m.):Georgia Power Co. reports that as of 3:45 p.m., about 1,660 Columbus area homes are without power due to the storm passing through the area, according to Robert Watkins, a spokesman for the utility.

About 740 of the outages are in the city limits, he said, and they are scattered from Green Island Hills to Ellerslie to South Columbus.

“It’s very scattered trouble,” he said.

Watkins said workers are out evaluating the problems, so they will soon be able to get some idea when everyone’s power may be restored.

Stay with ledger-enquirer.com for more on the power outages.

Update (2:15 p.m.):Georgia Power Co.’s storm center in Atlanta is monitoring the strong storm front moving into the state and keeping local line crews on an alert status throughout the day and night, a power company spokesman said this morning.

“Everybody’s on alert. The storm center in Atlanta is open to take a state-wide view of what’s going on,” Georgia Power spokesman Robert Watkins said. “Locally, we’re just on alert and waiting to start picking up trouble if we have any.”

Georgia Power has reciprocal agreements with other utilities around the southeast to send in crews if they’re needed, Watkins said. When bad storm hits, workers evaluate the amount of damage and outages and send the information to the storm center in Atlanta, which dispatches crews to the hardest hit areas.

“We have an evaluation and restoration plan we enact that plan if things get bad enough,” he said.

Watkins said Georgia Power can call in crews from as far away as Texas or up the Eastern Seaboard. In fact, he said, Georgia Power sent crews to New York City to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Update (2:07 p.m.): The tornado warning for our area passed at 2 p.m., but a tornado watch is still in effect until 8 p.m. EST. Columbus is still under a severe thunderstorm warning until 2:30 p.m.

Update (1:29 p.m.): The National Weather Service has issued a Tornado Warning in north central Barbour County, eastern Bullock County and central Russell County until 2 p.m. EST. It warns all that people should take shelter now.

There are currently no cancellations at Columbus State University.

Update (1:17 p.m.): The Muscogee County School District's cancellation of all after-school activities in advance of today's severe storms includes the childcare programs conducted at MCSD schools.

In a news release, MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller said, "All extracurricular activities and after school programs, which take place at the end of the school day are cancelled for all schools, but there are no school closings. ... Students are scheduled to be released from school at the regular release time. We will continue to monitor the weather and update you accordingly if there are any changes."

St. Anne-Pacelli dismissed at noon and canceled today's after-school activities.

Harris County's elementary schools dismissed students at 12:30 p.m. Creekside Middle and Harris County High School dismissed at 1 p.m. Chattahoochee Valley Community College closed its campus at 1 p.m.

An official with Lee County schools said none of their schools will be letting out early today.

Wynnbrook Christian canceled today's after-school activities.

In Phenix City schools, South Girard, Central Freshman Academy and Central High School dismissed at 1 p.m. Phenix City Intermediate School and all of the elementary schools are expected to dismiss at 4 p.m. The news release says if the bad weather hasn't passed by then, they might delay their dismissal 30-45 minutes.

Phenix City Head Start dismissed at 12:30 p.m.

St. Patrick's dismissed at 1 p.m. Glenwood dismissed at 11 a.m.

All non-emergency Russell County government offices closed at 11 a.m., commission chairwoman Peggy Martin announced in a news release.

Wednesday's print story: People in the Chattahoochee Valley can expect severe weather today, including heavy rain, lots of lightning and mighty winds.

"It is a very strong system," WRBL meteorologist Bob Jeswald said Tuesday.

Jeswald said there also is a possibility of a tornado but "not so much."

The real concern, he said, is winds of possibly 30 mph with gusts as high as 50 that could cause havoc with trees and branches falling on power lines.

Though there will likely be some rain and wind before noon, the brunt of the storm should hit Phenix City and Columbus later in the day. That's when the squall line, a line of thunderstorms preceding a cold front, should arrive.

Up to two inches of rain may fall during the day.

The bad weather is the result of a Canadian cold front mixing with warm, moist air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, Jeswald said.

This storm comes on the eve of Severe Weather Awareness Week.

In a new release Tuesday, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security urged people to take some simple steps toward preparedness.

The GEMA said people should identify their family reconnection place, purchase an NOAA Weather Radio, check their patios to make sure there is nothing that could blow away in a storm, remove dead or rotting branches from trees, identify safe places in their homes to take shelter and put copies of important documents in water-tight containers.

"Georgia is susceptible to nearly every type of natural disaster. Being prepared is the best defense against the unexpected, so Georgians should use this opportunity to take simple but potentially life-saving emergency preparedness steps," GEMA Director Charley English said in the release. "Tornadoes, storms and floods can devastate communities, but the damage can be minimized if we're prepared."

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens also stressed safety, noting that March, April and May are considered prime months for tornadoes to strike.

"Georgia tornado season is just around the corner and we want all Georgia consumers to be familiar with steps they should take to minimize property damage and financial hardship caused by storms," Hudgens said.

Some tips from Hudgens' office are:

Keep your insurance policy numbers and your agent's phone number in a safe place.

Make a list of all valuables -- furniture, electronics, etc. -- and photograph or videotape your possessions. Keep copies of the information in a safe place outside your home. If your home is damaged or destroyed in a natural disaster, it may be difficult for you to tell your insurance agent what you lost without proof.

If disaster strikes, contact your agent or insurance company immediately.

Protect your home from further damage. For example, if your roof is damaged, cover it with a tarp to prevent water damage from subsequent rain. Most policies will not cover such damage.

Make sure you understand the difference between actual cash value and replacement cost coverage for your contents and obtain the coverage that best suits your needs. An ACV policy replaces contents at cost minus depreciation. If you have replacement cost coverage, your contents will be replaced at today's prices.