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Atlanta – Schools are closing early in the southeastern United States because of the threat of severe weather including tornadoes.

More than a dozen school systems in northern Alabama announced they’re dismissing students early Monday because of a line of storms forecasters say will move through the area. Scattered early-closings extend into central Tennessee.

Other school systems say they’re monitoring conditions and could release students early if conditions warrant. Birmingham city offices are closing at noon because of the threat.

The National Weather Service says thunderstorms will develop ahead of an approaching storm system. They say tornadoes, damaging winds and hail as large as tennis balls are all possible.

More than 29 million people face a threat of severe storms Monday.

Large parts of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee and a small portion of northeast Mississippi will be under a tornado threat Monday afternoon and evening, the national Storm Prediction Center said.

The threatened storms come one day before the official start of spring, and are “by far the most impressive setup we’ve seen so far this year,” said Kurt Weber, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Huntsville, Alabama.

“We can’t rule out a strong tornado east of Interstate 65 at this point with all the ingredients coming together,” Weber added. “Hopefully not, but definitely a possibility.”

An enhanced risk of severe storms covers several large cities across the South, including Nashville and Chattanooga in Tennessee; and Birmingham, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa in Alabama, forecasters said.

In Alabama, any strong tornadoes, golf ball to tennis ball-sized hail and 70-mph winds were most likely in the northern half of Alabama, including all of metro Birmingham. Hail of that size can do serious damage to buildings and cars, Weber said.

“This is one of those days you want to put the car in the garage if you can,” Weber said.

In Georgia, the highest risk of tornadoes will be in northwest Georgia, including the cities of Dalton, Rome and Cartersville.

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