This year’s midterm election features an intensity usually reserved for a presidential race. In parts of central and eastern United States, a major storm system may add a wrinkle to this high-stakes contest.
The storm is set to rapidly develop Monday into Tuesday as it travels from the Southern Plains to the Great Lakes region. Numerous states could be hit by heavy rain and even some tornadoes.
The pattern supporting the storminess developed earlier this week and set the stage for a predecessor storm that spawned tornadoes across Louisiana and nearby areas before dawn on Wednesday. It is now moving up the East Coast, where heavy rain and thunderstorms are expected.
The Election Day storm system is already on the doorsteps of the Pacific Northwest. It will dive into the contiguous United States over the weekend.
The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center is closely monitoring the potential for severe weather both Monday and Tuesday. It has highlighted zones that have an elevated risk of severe weather on both days (see below).
The Monday night into Tuesday morning time frame could be particularly troublesome in south central United States, as this will be another storm system capable of delivering strong tornadoes, even at night.
However, storms that form should be fairly short-lived, which should limit the overall impact on Election Day voting outside the hardest-hit communities.
Beyond the potential for severe storms on Election Day, pockets of heavy rain could deter voters from the Great Lakes through the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys and into the Northeast. In addition, winds will be very gusty over a large area from the south central United States through the Great Lakes as the storm cranks up.
While there is no question a storm will form, there are still questions on the details of this storm’s intensity, timing and the locations that will be hardest hit. The European model simulates the potential for a serious severe weather episode across the South, as well as parts of the Midwest and Southeast over several days. The American (GFS) weather model has alternated between more gentle and more potent storm scenarios.
The election means such weather will be more consequential than usual, and there is a good chance this storm will affect turnout to some degree.
Although the increasing movement toward early voting may somewhat reduce the weather’s impact, there are a number of close races in areas that will be affected by this storm.
As Angela Fritz of The Washington Post explored during the last major election cycle, bad weather may tend to favor Republican turnout, at least historically. The fervor surrounding this election could, however, make it bend a bit from history.
Having such a potent storm system in early November is not unusual.
Severe weather usually peaks in the spring, but it can happen at any time if the right ingredients come together. In some years, fall becomes a second severe weather season.
Research has also shown autumns preceding El Niño winters can be particularly active for severe storms, and an El Niño is developing. In December 2015, which was an El Niño winter, there were several major episodes of tornado activity, which affected the Dallas area and some areas to the east.
November is well known for vigorous storm systems such as this that develop and run into the Great Lakes. The Edmund Fitzgerald famously sank on Nov. 10, 1975, and terms such as the “gales of November” and “November Witch” have been popularized owing to storms at this time of year.