Strong tornadoes are likely today into tonight for parts of the South extending northward into Tennessee and southern parts of Kentucky. This will be the first severe thunderstorm and tornado outbreak of the year, which is why the Storm Prediction Center has issued its first moderate risk of the year (see Fig. 1). The moderate risk extends from south-central Tennessee into northern & central Mississippi and northwestern Alabama. Surrounding the moderate risk is an enhanced risk which extends from southern Kentucky southward into northeastern Louisiana.
A strong, negatively tilted shortwave trough is advancing eastward this morning from the Southern Plains. With this trough is a strong jet aloft. Ahead of the trough and jet, across the South, 60 & 70 degree dewpoints have already surged northward due to a strong surface low that is deepening in the Plains (this low is responsible for the blizzard conditions from the Texas Panhandle into Iowa). This will set the stage for very intense, rotating updrafts this afternoon. At this hour (this morning), intense thunderstorms have already developed across western Arkansas extending southward into northwestern Louisiana and eastern Texas. These storms will race eastward into the Mississippi Delta by this afternoon. At that point, all the atmospheric conditions will be primed for strong tornadoes. Along with strong tornadoes (see Fig. 2), large hail (see Fig. 3) and damaging winds (see Fig. 4) are possible. Other hazards are lightning and flash flooding.
Here is a snapshot of what the radar may look like early this afternoon (see Fig. 5) and by early evening (see Fig. 6). Notice the primary broken line of thunderstorms along with the isolated storms ahead of this line. It is possible tornadoes may exist in the line of thunderstorms with discreet supercells (producing tornadoes) out ahead of the main line.
Make sure you are weather-alert today & tonight. Have a plan in place in case a warning is issued for your area!
Christopher Nunley is Meteorologist on Firsthand Weather, Lecturer in the Department of Geosciences at Mississippi State University (MSU), and a PhD Candidate (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) at MSU. He earned his M.S. in Applied Meteorology at MSU, was an Assistant Cross Country Coach and taught at the University of North Texas, and was a Broadcast Meteorologist at KTEN-TV (just north of Dallas, Texas). Christopher’s main focus lies within teaching and inspiring prospective meteorology students, atmospheric research to further our understanding of atmospheric processes, and forecasting and analyzing extreme weather events to help save lives!