ATLANTA – The Latest on severe weather moving across the Southeast (all times local):
Hail the size of tennis balls is pelting parts of Alabama ahead of what forecasters say will be waves of severe weather across the Deep South.
Forecasters say some of the largest hail hit early Wednesday in the east Alabama city of Oxford, where convenience store manager Don Copeland says ice was so thick on the ground it looked like it had snowed.
Copeland says he's still working up courage to go outside and look at his pickup truck, which he fears was damaged by ice balls right after he made a $550 payment on it.
People are using social media to post photos of hail that hit the area. And the National Weather Service says there's likely more bad weather to come, including powerful tornadoes.
Heavy rain began falling before daybreak in parts of Alabama as severe storms continue their march across the Southeast.
National Weather Service meteorologist John De Block says some locations within the state Wednesday have already received around an inch of rain. He says rain started in central Alabama around 4 a.m. and worked its way north reaching Birmingham about an hour later.
In Georgia, the National Weather Service's website says a tornado warning is currently in effect until 9 a.m. for Carroll, Coweta, Fayette, Fulton and Heard counties.
More than 30 counties in Alabama are closing schools and colleges or planning for early dismissals as severe storms begin their march across the Southeast.
National Weather Service meteorologist John De Block said early Wednesday he expects storms to last into the evening in southern and eastern Alabama. He says tennis ball-size hail has fallen in several counties including Barber, Anniston and Bibb counties.
Alabama Power officials say there have been about 2,000 outages statewide following the pre-dawn line of storms.
Multiple news outlets report the schedule changes for schools on Wednesday involve some of the largest counties in the state including Madison, Mobile and Jefferson. Major universities including Alabama and Auburn also are closed, and many churches have called off Wednesday night activities.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency Tuesday evening and said it would last until the severe weather in the state subsides.
The threat of severe weather moving across the Southeast has led local school officials in Columbia, South Carolina, to announce early dismissals.
The National Weather Service is calling for thunderstorms, high winds, hail and possible tornadoes Wednesday.
Local news outlets report that all school districts in the Columbia area are dismissing middle and high school students early, some as early as 11 a.m. Elementary school classes will be dismissed at 11 a.m. Wednesday, and after-school activities are canceled.
Some schools in the Upstate are also dismissing early Wednesday due to weather concerns. The National Weather Service has confirmed four tornadoes touched down in the state's northwestern area during severe weather earlier this week.
Forecasters expect severe thunderstorms to move across the Southeast on Wednesday, bringing a threat of tornadoes and large hail.
The National Weather Service predicts widespread, serious thunderstorms beginning early Wednesday across much of Alabama and Georgia and into the Florida Panhandle and southwestern South Carolina.
National Weather Service meteorologist John De Block says he expects storms to last into the evening in southern and eastern Alabama. He says tornadoes are likely and there's a strong chance of baseball-sized hail.
In Georgia, meteorologist Laura Belanger says about 75 percent of the state could experience severe weather around sunrise and see it ramp up after 2 p.m.
Belanger says affected cities could include Atlanta and Augusta — the site of this week's Masters golf tournament.