Strong tornadoes possible across the South this week

Another shot for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, including some strong tornadoes, possible for the South on Thursday. A Level 4 risk of severe thunderstorms is in place Thursday for a good chunk of the South, including Jackson, MS; Memphis, TN; Birmingham, AL; and Nashville, TN.

The severe threat will start west of the Mississippi River early in the day and spread east throughout the afternoon and evening hours. It is possible parts of the Level 4 risk area may be upgraded to a Level 5.

Keep checking back for updates!

Strong, violent tornadoes likely for parts of the South

A dangerous severe weather outbreak will unfold across parts of the country over the next three days. This severe weather outbreak will lead to strong, violent tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds.

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The severe threat will slowly shift east from Tuesday through Thursday.

Tuesday severe thunderstorm outlook
Wednesday severe thunderstorm outlook
Thursday severe thunderstorm outlook

Significant severe weather, strong tornadoes possible across the Mid-South and Dixie Alley Wednesday

Wednesday is shaping up to be the first significant severe weather and high-impact tornado threat for Dixie Alley and the Mid-South. A potent upper level storm system will approach the region, allowing a surface low to develop and intensify, pulling in deep moisture and warm air into the region.

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Upper-level storm system Wednesday afternoon
Surface dew points Wednesday afternoon
Temperatures Wednesday afternoon

With the increased moist and warm airmass at the surface, and colder air moving over the region with the approaching upper-level storm system, the Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE) will be high in the Mid-South and Dixie Alley. The higher the CAPE values, the more unstable the atmosphere; thus, producing stronger updrafts, leading to more severe weather possibilities.

CAPE Wednesday afternoon (high values are in the gray/green and yellow/orange shaded area)

The approaching upper-level storm system will provide favorable wind speeds and directions across the region. Winds will change directions and speed with height, which provides a favorable environment for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. This is known as directional and speed shear. Directional shear is wind direction changing with height while speed shear is the change in wind speeds with height.

Strong vertical wind shear is crucial for the development and longevity of severe thunderstorms, and wind shear looks favorable for severe thunderstorms late-Wednesday. From 500 mb (around 18,700 feet) down to 925 mb (around 2,500 feet), the winds change direction and speed, which suggests severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible with other favorable atmospheric parameters.

500 mb (around 18,700 feet) winds Wednesday afternoon
925 mb (around 2,500 feet) winds Wednesday afternoon

The aforementioned setup indicates not only significant severe weather is possible but tornadoes are also possible late-Wednesday. When looking at such a setup, it is important to look dive into the history and look at similar weather patterns in the past and investigate what they have produced. This is known as analogs.

Looking at the analogs, they indicate similar atmospheric events in the past have led to strong, long-track tornadoes across the region, so this event needs to be monitored closely! It should be noted: this is still far out so the specifics cannot be identified at this point but that will be ironed out over the coming days.

Severe weather analog
Long-track tornado analog
Significant tornado analog

This is supported by the significant tornado parameter values Wednesday afternoon across the region. The significant tornado parameter is a complex composite index, consisting of multiple ingredients. It factors in 0-6 km bulk wind difference (6BWD), 0-1 km storm-relative helicity (SRH1), surface parcel CAPE (sbCAPE), and surface parcel LCL height (sbLCL). To put this in laymen terms, it’s a great tool to identify where strong tornadoes may occur. High significant tornado parameter values are forecast to be present, which suggest tornadoes, some strong or violent, are a possibility across parts of western Tennessee, Mississippi, and western Alabama.

Significant tornado parameter Wednesday afternoon

While there are considerable questions surrounding this event, it appears thunderstorms will develop early-Wednesday west of the Mississippi River in Arkansas and Louisiana. These storms will move east through Wednesday afternoon into Wednesday evening for areas east of the Mississippi River, including Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and eventually Georgia, and the Florida Panhandle.

Due to the severe potential, the Storm Prediction Center has highlighted the Mid-South and Mid-Mississippi Valley for severe weather Wednesday. A Level 3 risk for severe weather is in place Wednesday for the red shaded area. This includes southwestern Tennessee, eastern Arkansas, northeastern Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. A Level 2 and Level 1 risk surrounds the Level 3 risk in the orange and yellow shaded areas.

Wednesday thunderstorm outlook

Now is the time to prepare! Do not panic but have a plan in place in case a Tornado Watch or Tornado Warning is issued for your area. Make sure you have a few reliable sources to receive weather information from as this event approaches.

It is also a good time to refresh your memory on tornado terminology. A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form. A tornado warning means a tornado has been indicated or spotted. A tornado emergency means a severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage to property is likely.

Tornado terminology

Historic winter storm to impact Rockies and Plains

A historic winter storm will cripple parts of the Rockies and Plains over the weekend. Some areas will experience feet of snow, which will create significant travel impacts, allow for power outages, as well as damage to trees. A few areas that will see the biggest impacts are Colorado, Wyoming, and parts of Nebraska.

A potent upper-level system is moving over the Southwest. This system will move northeast into the Rockies over the weekend, followed by the Plains early next week. Deep moisture is feeding north ahead of the system, which will contribute to the heavy snow as the moisture is forced up the Front Range of the Rockies.

Current Winter Weather Alerts

A plethora of winter weather alerts have been issued across Colorado, Wyoming, and parts of Nebraska. A blizzard warning is in effect for southeastern Wyoming and the northern Nebraska Panhandle where heavy snow and strong winds will lead to white out conditions. A winter storm warning has been issued for central Colorado, southern & central Wyoming, the southern Nebraska Panhandle, and South Dakota where heavy snow will fall. A winter storm watch has been issued for parts of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota for heavy snow potential.

Current winter weather alerts

Snow Accumulations and Impacts

Heavy snow and strong winds are likely for the Front Range of the Rockies and the Plains, leading to whiteout conditions. 1 to 2 feet of snow will fall along the I-25 corridor in the region. The 1 foot totals will extend into the western Plains. Parts of the Front Range may see 3 to 4 feet of snow. Heavy snow accumulations of a foot will extend south into the northern mountains of New Mexico. Denver, Cheyenne, Fort Collins, and Boulder will see significant accumulations.

Colorado and New Mexico snow forecast
Wyoming snow forecast
Nebraska and South Dakota snow forecast

Timing

The winter storm is currently over the Southwest and will begin impacting all of the Four Corners states overnight Friday into Saturday. The snow will also begin impacting slight impacts from the system in the Plains and Front Range of the Rockies overnight Friday.

Bigger impacts will arrive for the Front Range of the Rockies and the Plains Saturday through Sunday. Heavy snow and wind will stick around through the entire weekend, continuing into early-Monday morning before shutting down.

Saturday morning radar
Saturday afternoon radar
Sunday morning radar

Several days of severe weather expected from the Southern Plains to Mid-South

March 1st was the first day of meteorological spring, and now spring-like thunderstorms are in the forecast over the next several days. Severe thunderstorms will begin over the Southern Plains and slowly spread east into the Mid-South.

The severe thunderstorm event will be triggered by the jet stream plunging south over the western-half of the lower-48. This dip in the jet stream will create a nice uptick in moisture across the western lower-48, including parts of California and the Four Corners states (YAY!). What comes down, must go up! A seesaw will take place. As the jet stream dips over the western lower-48, the jet stream will surge north over eastern parts of the country, which will lead to well above average temperatures.

This pattern will set the stage for severe thunderstorms from the Southern Plains into the Mid-South as gulf moisture and warmth feeds north, east of the Rockies, along with strong winds and colder temperatures slowly spreading east in the upper-levels of the atmosphere.

Severe thunderstorm forecast

Wednesday

The first threat for severe thunderstorms begins Wednesday across the Southern Plains. The main area to see thunderstorms will occur from western Missouri, southwest into central and eastern Kansas, down into central Oklahoma. The main hazards are gusty winds and hail.

Wednesday thunderstorm outlook

Thursday

The severe thunderstorm threat continues Thursday, slightly shifting south. The main area to see thunderstorms will occur from southern Missouri, southwest into southern Kansas, down into central and western Oklahoma as well as western Texas. The main hazards are gusty winds and hail.

Thursday thunderstorm outlook

Friday, Saturday, Sunday

A more impactful severe weather threat begins Friday, continuing through the weekend as the dip in the jet stream out west begins to move east. This will allow the hail and wind threat to continue along with an uptick in the chance for tornadoes.

The enhanced severe threat will begin Friday across far southern Kansas, northern and western Oklahoma, extending down into northwestern Texas.

The severe thunderstorm risk area expands on Saturday from southern Kansas, all of Oklahoma, down through northern and central Texas.

By Sunday, the severe threat slowly shifts east into the Mid-South. Eastern Kansas, southern and central Missouri, eastern Oklahoma, eastern Texas, Arkansas, northern and central Louisiana, far western Tennessee, and far northwestern Mississippi will all be under the gun for severe thunderstorms.

All modes of severe thunderstorms are possible Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Friday thunderstorm outlook
Saturday thunderstorm outlook
Sunday thunderstorm outlook

As the dip in the jet stream advances east early next week, the associated cold front will seep into the Ohio Valley and Southeast. The thunderstorm threat will shift east, too, but there are too many uncertainties at this point for a severe hazard to be outlined.

Keep checking back for updates!

Snow possible across the Southeast overnight into Saturday

All eyes are on an upper-level low over the Southern Plains. This upper-level low will race to the east overnight into Saturday and begin to open into a shortwave over the Mid-South tonight. Despite the upper-level system opening into a shortwave, it will be rather vigorous as it moves into the Southeast on Saturday.

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As the shortwave treks over the Southeast, strong lift, and a gradual moistening of the atmosphere will occur. This will lead to an uptick in cloud cover across the South & Southeast beginning tonight and continuing through Saturday morning. A light band of precipitation should develop with the increased lift ahead of the shortwave overnight into early-Saturday morning across northeastern Alabama, northern Georgia, far southeastern Tennessee, southeastern North Carolina, and far western Upstate South Carolina.

Future radar 3:00 am Saturday

Initially, the precipitation from this band will fall into dry air at the surface; thus, the majority of the precipitation will evaporate before reaching the surface. This evaporation process will lead to a gradual moistening of the atmosphere, leading to precipitation reaching the ground Saturday morning. The precipitation band will increase in coverage and intensity throughout the morning hours Saturday. Here is where the forecast gets interesting. The temperature profile of the atmosphere is supportive of a rain/snow mixture. Almost the entire column of the atmosphere, from the ground to where the jets fly, will be below freezing. This will allow snow or a rain/snow to fall across the aforementioned regions.

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Future radar 6:00 am Saturday
Future radar 9:00 am Saturday
Future radar 12:00 pm Saturday

High-resolution models are suggesting .05″ to .20″ of precipitation falling across northeastern Alabama, northern Georgia, far southeastern Tennessee, southeastern North Carolina, and far western Upstate South Carolina.

Precipitation accumulation forecast

With temperatures supporting wintry weather, precipitation amounts of .05″ to .20″ would equate to a few areas seeing accumulating snow. Models are suggesting up to 1″ of snow possible.

Snow accumulation forecast

Firsthand Weather is forecasting flurries from northeastern Alabama, northern Georgia, far southeastern Tennessee, southeastern North Carolina, and far western Upstate South Carolina Saturday morning with light accumulations possible across the higher terrain of northeastern Georgia. Within this area of accumulations, due to banding, isolated 2″ amounts cannot be ruled out but most areas will see lesser accumulations.

It should be noted: this event is marginal. Slight deviations in weather variables may significantly change the forecast so keep checking back for updates.

How much daylight will you gain over the next few weeks? Plus, what is meteorological spring

It is now meteorological spring but why does the calendar say spring starts on March 20?

Meteorological seasons are based on the annual temperature cycle and are more consistent for that reason. Astronomical spring, March 20, is based on the position of the Earth in relation to the sun. It is also called the vernal equinox, which marks the moment the sun’s rays are shining directly on the equator. This is when the day and night are equal lengths.


Meteorologists like to break down the seasons into three-month groups, which consist of winter (December, January and February), spring (March, April and May), summer (June, July and August), and fall (September, October and November). Hence, why it is now meteorological spring. Meteorological spring, March 1st through May 31st, is the transition period between the three coldest months and the three warmest months of the year. 

Regardless of meteorological spring or astronomical spring, the days are getting longer–a lot longer! Most of the lower-48 will gain at least 50-minutes of daylight throughout the month of March. This is wonderful news for all of you outdoors people, gardeners, and farmers.

Daylight gained through March

Gulf of Mexico water temps to have big impacts on severe thunderstorms this spring

The northwestern Gulf of Mexico is still recovering from the February Arctic intrusion that impacted Texas. As of early-March, water temperatures are well below average. The below average water temperatures will undoubtedly have an impact on convection and severe thunderstorms west of the Mississippi throughout March.  

Current Gulf of Mexico Water Temperature

The Gulf of Mexico waters are an important variable in convection and severe thunderstorms for areas east of the Rockies. Generally speaking, when the Gulf of Mexico water temperatures are above average, this leads to more instability for convection and severe thunderstorms by supplying the atmosphere with added moisture and warmth. Instability acts as fuel for thunderstorms, and many times, the greater the instability, the stronger the thunderstorm if other variables are favorable. Thus, the added moisture and warmth bolsters instability, creating increased severe thunderstorms. 

Research shows the warmer the Gulf of Mexico water temperatures, the more hail and tornadoes occur throughout March, April, and May. With the water temperatures running below average in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, it is possible this will have implications on convection and severe thunderstorms throughout the month of March due to the decreased availability of moisture and warmth added to the atmosphere. This may lead to less intense convection or a decrease in tornado and large hail frequencies during the month of March for areas west of the Mississippi River. It should be noted: severe thunderstorms are still possible throughout March but the frequency and intensity may be impacted. Areas farther east into Dixie Alley and the Southeast will likely not see a decrease in thunderstorm intensity and frequency as Gulf of Mexico water temperatures are above average in the eastern-half of the Gulf.

Above average temperatures are forecast for the region throughout March so this will allow the Gulf of Mexico water temperatures to slowly recover, possibly returning to average or even climbing above average by April, which could lead to an increase in severe weather during April and May.  

March Temperature Outlook

Laura Could Rapidly Intensity Over The Gulf of Mexico As It Heads Toward Louisiana/Texas

Laura has begun to develop deep convection (thunderstorms) over the past several hours as it skirts along the southeastern Cuba coastline. We expect Laura to mostly continue on a northwestward trajectory on Monday, and even though it’ll continue riding along the southern Cuban coastline for another 24 hours or so, part of the storm will remain over open water the entire time. Sea surface temperatures south of Cuba run in the 30-31°C (~86-88°F) range, which are more than sufficient to allow Laura to maintain its current intensity or even strengthen in the short-term, despite its interaction with the mountainous terrain of Cuba. 

Most model guidance a couple days ago had Laura’s center moving through Cuba, but the storm has had a tendency to move a little farther south than most model projections. When a tropical cyclone moves parallel to a chain of landmasses, especially ones that have mountainous terrain, a few dozen mile difference in track can make a dramatic difference in current intensity, subsequent intensity change, and even track. As Laura emerges over the Gulf of Mexico by early Tuesday, we anticipate that the system will be more intact than it otherwise would have been. Thus, it should take less time for Laura to capitalize on the anomalously warm waters beneath it. 

A strong, deep-layer high pressure system currently sits just off the Southeast coast, which currently places Laura to the south of the feature. As Laura treks northwestward, this ridge will continue expanding westward, which will prevent the storm from simply turning northward toward Florida once departing Cuba. Hurricane Marco will actually help strengthen the ridge as well. Tropical cyclones, like Laura and Marco, extract heat energy from the underlying ocean via evaporation. This process helps further moisten the air above, and that heat from the ocean gets released into the atmosphere when clouds and deep thunderstorms develop. Thanks to Marco assisting in the strengthening and westward expansion of the ridge, Laura will continue on a northwestward track longer, which 1) will give Laura more time over the warn Gulf of Mexico and 2) will put Louisiana/Texas at a higher risk for a Laura landfall. 

Marco will stay weaker due to a mid-to-upper level trough that currently extends southwestward into eastern Texas/northeastern Mexico and over the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, Marco will encounter vertical wind shear, keeping its intensity at bay. However, the trough will retrograde westward by the time Laura makes it into the Gulf of Mexico, which means that Laura should encounter considerably less wind shear.

We expect Laura to rapidly intensify over the Tuesday to Wednesday timeframe, which corresponds to an intensity increase of at least 35 mph (30 knots) over a 24-hour period. The National Hurricane Center currently predicts that Laura will reach upper-end category 2 status in 72 hours. However, it’s possible that most model guidance is underestimating how much strengthening will occur, especially if Laura’s low/mid-level center manages to stay mostly off the Cuban coast over the next 24 hours. Also, Laura is expected to move at a relatively fast pace over the Gulf of Mexico, which will decrease the odds that upwelling of cooler sub-surface ocean waters will hinder Laura’s intensification. Thus, it’s plausible that Laura could become a category 3+ storm.

With all of this said, it’s very important to understand that severe winds are not the only hazard associated with hurricanes. While the strongest winds remain closest to the storm center, flooding often becomes a much more widespread risk, well away from the center. As of now, the heaviest rainfall will fall across much of the Mid-South and potentially extend into eastern parts of the Southern Plains. In the projected 7-day rainfall totals, the axis of heaviest rainfall totals curves around the periphery of the westward-expanding ridge, which corresponds with Laura’s projected path. 

We’ll reassess the forecast again on Monday to determine the effect that Laura’s interaction with Cuba will have on its intensification in the Gulf of Mexico. Please understand that the forecast will likely change, especially over the next 24 hours, but afterwards, forecast confidence will hopefully increase.

Hurricane Irma Should Be Monitored For Possible U.S. Impacts This Weekend/Next Week

As of 8 pm ET, Hurricane Irma is still a strong category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 185 and gusts up to 225 mph. It has unbelievably maintained that same strength since yesterday, despite some fluctuations in minimum central pressure. It is moving west-northwest at 16 mph and will be skirting the northern coast of Puerto Rico soon.

Forecast Discussion:

The biggest challenge to forecasting Hurricane Irma’s track through early next week remains the various features that either have or will impact its steering. Bermuda ridging over the Atlantic has kept Irma on a westward course, and this feature will continue to play a role on Irma’s movement. This ridge has strengthened and has even built southwestward with time; however, there are two main features to watch that could act to break down the westward extend of the ridge closer to the end of the week.

First, a longwave trough has established itself over the eastern United States with a ridge back to the west. For what it’s worth, this is actually the pattern that is responsible for bringing less humid and cooler air across the eastern half of the United States. Unfortunately, it appears that the trough is going to move out too quickly for it to actually steer Irma safely away from the U.S. east coast; however, as the trough lifts and then propagates eastward with time, it will keep a weakness established between the Bermuda ridge out east and a ridge that will center itself over the Four Corners region and extend into west Texas by this weekend. Once Irma gets far enough west, this should result in Irma taking a hard turn northward. This is actually well-advertised in the model guidance, but there has been a bit of spread over the last few days between the models on when that northward turn will occur. Some models take Irma into the eastern Gulf of Mexico, some northward through the peninsula of Florida, and some skirting Florida along its east coast before taking Irma into Georgia and South Carolina.

latest irma forecast models

Figure 1: This is the latest model representations of where Irma could go.

Although Bermuda ridging may build southwestward over the next day or two, this feature should become less of a dominant steering mechanism at least long enough for Irma to start making the turn northwestward/northward towards the end of the week or early weekend. The second feature to watch will be Hurricane Jose. It’s difficult to say if that will have any influence on the southern extent of the Bermuda ridge as Jose treks in a northwestward direction, but it’s most certainly something to watch closely.

To complicate matters even further, the current ridge that is established over the western U.S. which extends northward into western Canada is going to actually break (imagine a wave in the ocean crashing), which will result in the formation of a cut-off low (the same trough I was referring to earlier). Another, weaker shortwave will be moving southeastward towards Mississippi and Alabama, and ridging may begin building over the northeast by this weekend. All in all, this continues to be a super complex forecast.

Aside from all of these features to monitor, the angle that Irma will be coming in relative to the coast makes for additional challenges. A jog fifty miles west or east can be the difference between major hurricane-force winds along the coast or barely tropical depression/storm-force winds.

Where I Think Irma Could Go And Who Should Be Preparing:

Now that you’ve listened to me spend quite a lot of time talking about the complexity of this forecast, I’m actually going to attempt to make a forecast. We still have the three scenarios on the table that I presented close to a week ago in my earlier articles. Irma could barely make it into the eastern Gulf of Mexico and ride along Florida’s west coast, Irma could ride up or along the eastern Florida peninsula into Georgia or the Carolinas, OR Irma could move just east of Florida and out to sea.

The least likely scenario is for this system to go into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. While Bermuda ridging will certainly continue to influence Irma’s steering, it likely won’t extend far enough westward. With a weakness established between the two ridges and with the possible influence of the eastern U.S. trough (even with it lifting out), this should open the door for Irma to make that turn northwestward and then northward before getting into the Gulf. There was quite a bit of talk in the meteorological community about how if Irma stayed below a certain latitude that it would increase the odds of an entrance into the Gulf, and while that may be true, Irma should gain enough latitude over the next couple of days for this scenario not to unfold. I still advise those along the Florida panhandle and west coast of Florida to closely monitor the latest forecasts regardless, due to the complexity of the forecast.

irma sea surface temperatures

Figure 2: Hurricane Irma remains over warm waters.

Based on what I am seeing, the most likely scenario is for Irma to make the turn northwestward and eventually northward before reaching the Florida Keys. This would result in Irma riding along the Florida east coast, possibly causing tropical storm to hurricane-force winds for regions closer to the coast. It’s too soon to say if these winds will be tropical storm/low-end hurricane strength or closer to major hurricane-force winds. I’m not saying that because I’m predicting Irma to weaken considerably before reaching coastal regions of Florida, but because a slight difference in track west or east will make a significant difference in impact. That’s why all residents from the Keys to the east coast of Florida need to prepare for this event. Also, residents located in the Bahamas need to prepare to possibly be impacted by a major hurricane.

As Irma rides close to the coasts of Florida and Georgia, the upper-level low over the Southeast, the ridging over the Northeast, and the Bermuda ridge could cause Irma to eventually make a landfall somewhere between the north Georgia or South Carolina coasts. The strength of these features will ultimately play a role in how this evolves. Residents along the Georgia and Carolina coastlines (including North Carolina) need to monitor this situation very closely, and if model guidance begins to consistently support this forecast and the reasoning behind it, vacation plans for late this weekend and early next week will need to be canceled.

Irma Impact Map

Figure 3: These are states that could be impacted by Hurricane Irma. Note: the black line represents the NHC’s latest projected path; however, the buffer around the black line is not the NHC’s cone of uncertainty, just a 2 degree buffer.

Bullet-Point Summary:

  • The Bahamas need to prepare to potentially be impacted by a major hurricane. The Florida Keys to the east coast of Florida could be impacted by tropical storm to hurricane-force winds. A fifty-mile difference in track could result in huge differences in impact. Given that we’re about five days before Irma reaches Florida, it’s too soon to make a forecast with that kind of precision, given Irma will trek parallel to the state. In fact, it actually could prove to be a challenging forecast even 24 to 48 hours beforehand.
  • While it can’t be ruled out that Hurricane Irma will go into the eastern Gulf of Mexico, it’s highly unlikely. Residents from the panhandle to the west coast of Florida still need to be aware of the latest forecasts in case anything changes.
  • Residents along and inland from the Georgia and Carolina coasts need to prepare to possibly be impacted by a hurricane very late weekend into early next week. While it should be understood that this forecast remains to be complex, planning for this event should be ongoing.
  • While some weakening could occur, Irma is expected to remain in an environment that will support little weakening through at least the end of the week. It seems unlikely that Hispaniola will majorly impact Irma’s strength.
  • We will address other states that could be impacted by Irma over the next day or two.
  • Again, as has been stated numerous times, this forecast is complicated. Modifications will have to be made, but there is nothing wrong with preparing for this event, despite the uncertainty that remains.

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