A widespread severe weather outbreak is expected to unfold over the Southern and Central Plains within the next few hours, bringing long-lasting tornadoes, destructive winds, large hail, and flooding downpours to the region. The last time such high risk was issued was April 2012, when over 100 tornadoes devastated the Plains.
A very active start to this season is only expected to continue, with this afternoon/evening calling for the highest risk we’ve seen in over 7 years. Over a dozen tornadoes were reported in the region just yesterday, and today, the Southern Plains is in for an especially intense and destructive round of severe thunderstorms.
The highest risk today falls over the Eastern TX Panhandle, Northwestern TX, and much of Central OK. Over this area, the chances for significant tornado formation is a whopping 45%, with the highest level of risk given out by the NWS Storm Prediction Center. It’s within this region that long -lasting, violent tornadoes are expected to form as early as 1-2 pm CDT.
Unusually high instability, potent Gulf moisture, and increasing shear will be advected into the region ahead of an incoming upper-level low, causing storms to rapidly develop into strong super-cells once daytime heating has “popped” our weak capping inversion. Our high instability will combine with a strong mid-level jet and forcing along a warm frontal boundary to continue to fuel storms well into the evening.
In addition to violent tornadoes, powerful updrafts in our developing super-cells will create extremely large hail as well. Hailstones as big as baseballs are possible within the strongest storms over northwest TX and Central OK. In surrounding storms, or any multicells that develop later on, large hail and tornadoes are also a large risk.
These powerful storms will continue well into the evening, likely lasting until early morning Tuesday, before another round of severe weather is likely to develop. Our upper-level low will slowly move northeastward, bringing the severe risk up into the Mississippi Valley.
While some more exact details on timing and placement remain unknown until the evolution of today’s storms play out, there’s a strong chance for severe risk to move up into the Mid-Mississippi Valley and ArkLaTex tomorrow. In contrast to today, Tuesday’s storms will very likely consist of more linear multi-cells. Strong winds and isolated tornadoes are possible along this convective line, with the highest risk appearing to be over Southern MO and Northern AR through tomorrow evening.
In addition to the outbreak to the west, the Northeast will also see some severe weather risk today. While storms here will certainly not be as strong, nor will they carry as high a risk, they do still carry some risks. Centered mostly over New England, intense heating and high dew points will destabilize air throughout the afternoon, causing some thunderstorms to pop up and move west to east over the area. Conditions are not very favorable for tornado development, but damaging straight-line winds and some hail present in a few stronger storms could cause isolated issues over the region.
While severe weather may be interesting, safety should always be the main priority. It’s extremely important to heed local warnings and watches if your area is under any sort of risk, no matter how small. For more information on how to stay safe in the event of severe weather, check out NWS’s page on Severe Weather Safety, and be sure to check out WeatherOptics on Facebook and Twitter for continuous updates throughout the week.