For a few minutes, Mr. Spann’s colleague on the broadcast, Taylor Sarallo, took the lead.
“It’s not a good situation,” Mr. Spann said when he returned. “The reason I had to step out —we’ve had major damage at my house. My wife is OK, but the tornado came right through there.”
In Trussville, Ala., Hannah Carter rode out the storm in her home — putting helmets on her two children and ushering them into a small hallway closet, along with herself, her husband and their dog.
“It’s been a crazy day,” she said.
She learned later that a tornado had come dangerously close to their home, but their property remained unscathed. She recalled a tornado in 2011 that also came within a street or two or her home. “It was a very nostalgic, flashback experience,” Ms. Carter said. “It could have been much worse.”
Officials warned residents to prepare as schools and government offices closed early. “Stay home, stay safe, stay informed,” Andy Berke, the mayor of Chattanooga, Tenn., said on Twitter. In Birmingham, the city government opened safe rooms and put up barricades in areas prone to flooding.
On Thursday morning, Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama declared a state of emergency in over 20 counties and pressed residents to “to closely monitor the weather system,” especially if their areas are under high risk.
The destructive weather returned a week after some of the same areas were hit by an outbreak of powerful storms that swept through Mississippi and Alabama before moving on to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. In January, a tornado in Alabama led to the death of a 14-year-old boy in Fultondale, a suburb of Birmingham; he had been sheltering in a basement with his family members when a tree fell on the house.