Weather News: Strong Tornadoes Could Hit Major Southern Cities

“SPC Outlooks use phrases like those used in recent days only when environmental conditions appear favorable for more widespread and higher severe weather potential,” Bill Bunting, head of Forecast Operations at the SPC, told CNN.

The overall storm system kicks off in Texas on Monday before moving into the Deep South on Tuesday.

More than 30 million people are at risk from severe storms that could trigger a tornado through Tuesday. If you live in or near these cities below, you’ll want to prepare.

This dynamic system has multiple hazards, from massive hail to strong tornadoes.

“Long story short, all variables eventually come together for this event,” the National Weather Service (NWS) wrote in New Orleans Monday morning.

The last few events have not seen all of these extreme weather variables work together at the same time.

The combination of warm, moist air colliding with drier air and an intense wind flow high in the atmosphere is not just for news organization meteorologists like myself, but for researchers as well. These scientists are today devoting themselves to the south to study this storm system to learn more about these dangerous storms.

storm timeline

“The storms will begin firing at noon Monday and will quickly become violent in East Texas and much of Oklahoma,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers told me this morning.

A small risk, level 2 of 5, for severe storms includes parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. A higher, increased risk, level 3 of 5, and includes most of the eastern half of Texas. An even higher moderate risk, level 4 of 5, includes Austin, Texas.

“Several tornadoes, including the potential for a few strong tornadoes, along with very large hail and damaging winds are expected this afternoon through tonight,” the SPC predicted.

“The initial threat will be large hail. As the day progresses into late afternoon, some storms may begin to rotate, increasing the threat of tornadoes in the area,” Myers said.

The tornado threat will hit places like Dallas, Texas.

“There is a 10% or greater chance of a stronger tornado event,” Patricia Sanchez of the Dallas NWS told us about the Metroplex. “The ingredients and all the instability and shear of the wind will be beneficial for that.”

After dark, the storms move further east. They will likely line up and storm east with all possible forms of severe weather. Before midnight, the strongest weather will approach Little Rock, Shreveport and Houston, Myers said.

One thing we need to pay close attention to is the individual storms that form before this line, he adds. They will be east of the line and therefore arrive before the storm line itself.

The individual storms, called supercells, are likely to rotate and create the greatest threat from tornadoes, Myers noted. “So, watch out and watch out for the timing of this!”
Read how a storm causes a tornado

The storms will continue on Tuesday with even the possibility of a third round in Houston and East Texas Tuesday morning, but our focus will shift east to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama during the day.

The worst will be centered in Louisiana and Mississippi, where moderate risk, level 4 of 5, includes Baton Rouge in Louisiana and Jackson in Mississippi.

“The risk for tomorrow will be higher during the day, which is a good thing in terms of people being more awake and alert,” Joanne Culin of the NWS office in Jackson, Mississippi, told CNN. “Unfortunately, we’ll be tapping into more of that daytime instability and fuel for thunderstorms.”

Just south of the bullseye is New Orleans, within the elevated risk, level 3 of 5.

“Strong damaging winds,” said Tim Erickson of the NWS office in New Orleans. “Tornadoes will not be ruled out at all,” he added.

In this area just north of New Orleans, scientists are beginning to deploy mobile radars, lightning maps and dozens of other instruments in a joint research project called PERiLS.

“Our target area is east-central Mississippi and west-central Alabama,” Tony Lyza, coordinator for NOAA’s involvement with PERiLS, told CNN.

Scientists say ‘never be wary’ in the Southeast

“You never let your guard down in the Southeast,” Christopher Weiss, a professor of Atmospheric Science at Texas Tech, told CNN.

“It’s not just that they have tornadoes. But there are other factors — you can’t see them very well because of the hills and the trees.”

Jennifer and I both went out into the field with Weiss as he lays down the instruments, called sticknets, for an approaching storm.

They look like yellow tripods with devices on them that turn with the wind.

Chris Weiss (left) deploys a sticknet for a storm in 2016.

On Monday he will lay down 16 instruments to record wind and pressure data. On Tuesday, they will review the data and begin building as specific storms, and he will deploy eight more in the potential tornado storm’s path, mostly in an area expecting a tornado warning.

“About an hour or so before the line arrives, we’ll be putting out our remaining eight probes for the line,” he explained. “So it gets dangerous.”

They drive fast along a highway and stop in a good clearing. All the doors swing open as his team gets out of the truck, grabs a sticknet from the trailer, takes it out and unfolds it. A team member running with a hammer begins to smash it into the ground. Another grabs and fixes the instruments and transmitter. Then they run back to the truck.

While Jenn and I ran with them years ago, you can feel your heart beating faster when you pull your seat belt over your chest.

Then they race to another location down the street and try to use all eight.

“We have to be very careful of course with the approaching storm, the tornado threat of course, but also with the lightning,” he added.

Tomorrow he won’t be the only scientist in the field. A group of them from nine universities, three divisions of NOAA and the NSF are meeting on Tuesday to better understand dangerous tornadoes.

They may come with little warning

See, we as meteorologists cringe when we hear someone interviewed after a tornado say these words, “It came without warning.”

The National Weather Service does a great job of issuing advance warnings. Not to mention day trips, they’re starting to tell people the probability of severe storms.

The stronger, more intense tornadoes usually happen from supercells and form before the mainline of storms. They are easy to show on radar and in a way they are easier to warn people.

Know the difference between a tornado watch and a warning

But the group studies tornadoes that can form within a line of storms.

“Tornadoes can spin, and they tend to spin with very little warning, sometimes even short enough time to get between weather service radar scans,” Weiss noted.

“So that’s what we’re going to focus on here, trying to learn more about how tornadoes are spawned from these linear storms, especially.”

“A lot of these tornadoes happen at night, of course. It’s part of what makes this part of the country so attractive for these kinds of projects because there are so many different ways the storms can affect people out there.”

Nighttime and rain-shrouded tornadoes

There is a risk of nighttime tornadoes both Monday night and Tuesday night, which is an incredibly dangerous scenario.

People can be caught off guard when the warnings wake them up in the middle of the night.

“People, of course you know they’re sleeping, they need a way to wake up when your alarm goes off for severe weather,” Erickson said.

He thinks there will be a line somewhere around New Orleans that will pose a threat there before or around midnight, and possibly even into the morning hours.

It’s not just the dark that can keep you from seeing the tornado coming. The air is so humid in the south, rain often wraps around tornadoes and it can be hard to spot them.

Heavy rainfall makes it extremely difficult to observe tornadoes because tornadoes may wrap in the rain quite quickly, the Dallas NWS said.

The WPC also issued a Moderate Risk, Level 3 of 4, for extreme rainfall for many of the same areas that could see tornadoes today and tomorrow.

It means that aside from rain-shrouded tornadoes, there will be the threat of flash flooding from Texas to Alabama. On Monday, flood alerts were issued along the Gulf Coast states from Texas to Mississippi, and they could expand to Alabama later in the day.

The flood threat will be greatest where storms train over the same areas “and drop a tremendous amount of rainfall and locally up to six inches or more is certainly not ruled out,” the NWS office in Shreveport said Monday.

CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray contributed to this article.

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