The beleaguered central United States, already rocked by severe weather and flooding in the spring, must brace for a multiday onslaught of violent storms.
Beginning Friday and continuing for at least several days, atmospheric ingredients may support dangerous storms capable of producing damaging winds, large hail, tornadoes and flooding.
On Tuesday, the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center declared an elevated risk of severe weather every day in its four-to-eight day outlook, covering the period Friday through Tuesday. It marked the first time that the center had highlighted such a threat over so many days in more than decade of issuing such outlooks.
And the way things look, severe season could remain more active than normal perhaps through the end of May.
The first wave arrives Friday afternoon as a shot of upper-level energy approaches the nation’s midsection from the west. Severe storms will fire in a narrow but extensive corridor stretching from the Texas Panhandle north through Kansas and central Nebraska. Damaging winds and destructive hail will be possible along with a few tornadoes, the best risk in two distinct zones — one in Nebraska near where the low pressure system’s center will track, and then also in western Oklahoma and adjacent north Texas where storms will be more isolated and feisty.
The storms ride east overnight Friday into Saturday, possibly ongoing around sunrise as they approach the Interstate-35 corridor. Population centers such as Omaha, Kansas City, Mo., Oklahoma City and Dallas are all in the risk zone drawn by the Storm Prediction Center. A few supercells may occur as well. But most of the storms should merge into larger aggregates, potentially tracking over the same areas and yielding a flash flood risk. The storm cluster will weaken some as it translates into the Mississippi River Valley on Sunday.
The second sprawling storm system will dive Monday from the Pacific coast toward the Four Corners region. Cold air aloft is set to overspread a juicy unstable layer near the surface, allowing a corridor of storms to erupt in parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Storms may move east Tuesday, targeting eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri.
Additional disturbances may approach late next week, triggering more severe storms.
With almost daily opportunities for storms, areas that get hit repeatedly will face increasing risks of flooding. As Weather.com notes, “Soil moisture remains in the 99th percentile over a vast swath of the nation’s midsection, and some rivers are still above flood stage from the northern Plains to the Gulf Coast.”
The National Weather Service projects at least three to six inches of rain over a large portion of the central United States over the next week.
The high-altitude pattern favorable for storm development could persist for the next 10 days or more.
With a stubborn barrel of cold air wrapped up in a West Coast dip in the jet stream, shots of energy will slingshot northeast into the Great Plains. There, they encounter moisture-rich air streaming northward from the Gulf of Mexico. During this time of year, the two air masses occasionally clash. And when they do, the results can be explosive.
The jet stream — threading the needle between these two opposing air masses — is screaming through the upper atmosphere at winterlike speeds. Ordinarily, the jet slows down a bit in the warmer months, but for the next week, it’s eyeing the Lower 48 with full steam ahead.
In addition to sparking severe weather in the nation’s central region, the jet may also bring unusually heavy rain to Southern California — and several feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada.
Given the barrage of storms forecast, the National Weather Service is urging residents in the central United States to get ready. “[H]ere are a couple questions to ask yourself,” they posted to Twitter. “Do I have a safe place to seek shelter (even when I’m not in my home)? Do I have a way to receive severe weather warnings?”
Jason Samenow contributed to this story.