Hurricane-force wind gusts and ‘intense tornadoes’ are forecast for today
The Southeast is once again at risk for extreme weather in a month that has seen near-record tornadic activity in the US.
“Just walk outside and you can tell something in the weather will occur today,” the National Weather Service (NWS) in Jackson, Mississippi, wrote Wednesday morning. The bull’s-eye is on Mississippi for the most extreme storms.
A line of storms racing across eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas will intensify through the day, putting over 50 million at risk for life-threatening extreme weather.
“A few tornadoes likely with a couple intense tornadoes possible” and “scattered damaging winds likely with isolated significant gusts to 80 mph possible,” the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) warned in the text of their most recent tornado watch.
This tornado watch will last into the early afternoon for portions of Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Louisiana.
As the storms move across Arkansas, the risk for severe storms will increase throughout the day.
“There is an increased threat of EF-2 to EF-5 tornadoes and severe thunderstorm wind gusts of 65 knots (75 mph) or greater,” the Weather Prediction Center said Wednesday morning.
EF-2 tornadoes can cause considerable damage, ripping roofs from houses and destroying mobile homes. While something as strong as an EF-5 tornado will cause incredible damage, usually sweeping homes off their foundation and carrying them considerable distances, according to the NWS.
By midday, changes in the atmospheric conditions near the line of storms will lead to “a rapid increase in storm coverage and intensity,” the Storm Prediction Center said.
One difference between this week’s storms and last week’s deadly tornado outbreak is how much more widespread the risk area is, how intense the winds will be and the longevity of damaging winds.
A moderate risk –– level 4 of 5 — for severe storms covers the entire state of Mississippi and includes portions of Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee.
So, in addition to Jackson, populated cities like Memphis in Tennessee, Baton Rouge in Louisiana and Mobile and Montgomery in Alabama are all in this risk category.
The bulk of the most vigorous activity is expected to become severe as it quickly crosses the Mississippi River into Mississippi, western Tennessee and Kentucky, the SPC said.
“We are expecting a long duration severe weather event today with damaging winds even before the storms arrive and destructive winds during the main event,” Logan Poole, a meteorologist with the NWS in Jackson, told CNN.
All across the South, winds are forecast to be strong ahead of the main line of storms which will have even stronger winds.
Even before the storms approach, there could be damaging wind gusts of nearly 60 mph out of the south.
High wind warnings are in effect ahead of the line of storms stretching from northwestern Tennessee to the Louisiana Gulf Coast.
“This will certainly be widespread and likely to affect a larger portion of our population,” the NWS in Jackson wrote. “Winds up to 80 mph, in addition to the gradient wind ahead of the line, will pose risks of downed trees and powerlines and result in power outages.
As the line of storm approaches, “Supercells are likely, with strong tornadoes possible,” the SPC said, “as well as particularly damaging outflow surges.”
The storm threat will continue through the evening hours and overnight, with storms hitting places like New Orleans, which is at a severe risk level 3 of 5, just about sunset.
As the storms make their way east across Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, they will begin to lose some of their potency before reaching places like Atlanta in the early morning hours.
A near-record March for tornadoes
As of Wednesday morning, the SPC has tallied at least 187 preliminary reports of tornadoes in March. This is more than 233% of normal and just four shy of the highest March tornado count in recorded history (191 in March 2021), according to CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.
On average, March averages about 80 tornadoes across the country.
Though the March record may be broken in a few hours with Wednesday’s storms, another tornado record has been standing far longer. The nat`ion is currently in the midst of its longest stretch without an EF-5 tornado, says Javaheri. “You would have to go back nearly a decade to May 20, 2013, for the last EF-5 in the country.”
Since that time, at least 11,322 tornadoes have touched down in the US, without a single one reaching the EF-5 threshold (200+ mph).
“The streak nearly came to an end in December 2021, amid the historic month that saw over 200 tornado reports,” Javaheri adds. “The December 10 western Kentucky tornado was rated an EF-4, with peak winds estimated around 190 mph, just 10 mph shy of an EF-5 tornado.”
“This is a streak we’ll hope to continue today.”
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