A significant chance of severe tornadoes is expected this weekend and into early next week across the central US, an outbreak could stretch from the Great Plains to the Midwest and South.
Tornadoes, high winds, large hail and flooding rain are all possible as a “powerful springtime weather system” moves across the country, says meteorologist Russell Schneider, the director of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
According to Bill Bunting, chief of operations at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., a severe weather outbreak is likely to start appearing on Saturday in the High Plains states. The contributing factors include a strong low-pressure area in the upper atmosphere, which will trigger the development of a surface low in the Plains, as well as abundant low-level moisture and winds that vary in speed and direction with height.
Sunday and Sunday night have the potential to be the worst 24-hour period of the outbreak. The highest potential for severe weather on Sunday will be in Arkansas and portions of Oklahoma and Texas. A secondary threat area will be from eastern Nebraska into Iowa.
On Monday, severe thunderstorms may threaten Columbia, Mo.; St. Louis, Mo.; Memphis, Tenn.; Little Rock, Ark.; Nashville, Tenn.; Birmingham, Ala.; and potentially as far south as New Orleans, Bunting said.
About 32 million people are in the risk area for severe storms Sunday, the SPC’s Schneider says. “People should monitor the weather closely this weekend and have their severe-weather plans ready.”
Large hail and damaging straight-line winds of more than 70 mph are likely, in addition to possible tornadoes. The system is expected to bring heavy rain, so flash flooding and even some river flooding is possible, according to the National Weather Service.
“We are on track for at least a 3-day round of severe weather,” Bunting said. “It’s difficult to say at this time just how significant” of an event this will be, he said.
The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon is scheduled for Sunday and organizers are emphasizing their alert system to notify participants and spectators of approaching storms. The marathon has three parking garages near the start and finish lines where people can take shelter.
Multiple tornadoes packing winds of more than 111 mph damaged more than 200 homes on Friday in North Carolina. Sixteen people were taken to the emergency room when the storms passed through around 7:25 a.m. Friday, according to Beaufort County Emergency management Director John Pack.
Rescue teams in the county spent the night and early Saturday morning “tearing people’s houses apart where their house had collapsed around them,” said Pack. About 2,500 residents were likely to remain without electricity for at least a couple more days while workers cleared downed trees and repaired power lines.
According to data kept by the Storm Prediction Center, only 109 tornadoes have been reported in the United States this year through Thursday, less than a quarter of the yearly average of 451 for the same period. Luckily, there have been no deaths reported in the United States so far this year, compared with three through April last year, 66 in 2012 and 365 in 2011, according to the center.