Risk of severe thunderstorms in Southern Plains, Monday. (National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center)

Key points

  • Flooding rain and severe storms, including tornadoes, are predicted in the Southern Plains through Monday night
  • Tornado watches in effect in the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma expire before midnight. Then, flooding is expected to become the major concern overnight from Oklahoma City to Tulsa and to the northeast.
  • The tornado outbreak has not been as severe as feared as twisters have mostly avoided population centers.
  • Live streams to follow for Oklahoma City tornado coverage: KFOR, KOCO, News9 | Active tornado warnings: Text | Twitter feed

Updates

9:10 p.m. - Heavy storms close in on Oklahoma City with flooding the major concern through the night. Tornado activity has diminished.

There is currently just one tornado warning in Oklahoma but multiple warnings for severe thunderstorms and flash flooding which will be the major concern overnight in central Oklahoma and to the northeast.

Over the next couple of hours, heavy storms will move into Oklahoma City and extend northeast to Tulsa. where the National Weather Service is warning of the potential for “life-threatening flash flooding.” Flooding extends north into Kansas and east into Missouri. Over one million people are under flash flood warnings.

Some tornado activity remains possible overnight but because large, destructive tornadoes have not developed (for the most part), and flooding will play out over the course of hours, this will be the last update in this post.

We will have new, fresh post-storm coverage on Tuesday.

7:55 p.m. - Worst of storms have yet to hit Oklahoma City, but news from storm outbreak so far is good

In the last hour, a large tornado touched down in Midland County, Texas, southwest of the town of Midland:

Fortunately, the area affected is mostly open farmland.

The good news so far is tornadoes have mostly missed population centers and there have yet to be reports of injuries despite multiple tornado reports:

But the storm threat is far from over. The storm complex still has to pass through Oklahoma City where it should arrive between 8 and 9 p.m. local time (9 and 10 p.m. eastern). Extremely heavy rain, flash flooding, damaging winds, and hail are all possible when storms arrive. And the threat of a tornado will persist.

6:45 p.m. - Large tornado passed by Mangum, Oklahoma, just missing town

In the last half hour, a large, powerful tornado carved a path just southeast of Mangum, Okla., narrowly missing the town. Here are some pictures:

The thunderstorm producing this tornado has raced off to the northeast and could impact the towns of Sentinel, Dill City, and Rocky where a tornado warning is in effect through 7:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. central).

6:10 p.m. - Multiple tornado warnings in Texas and Oklahoma but storm outbreak so far hasn’t reached potential

Just after 6 p.m. (5 p.m. central), there were four active tornado warnings in Texas and Oklahoma. Multiple tornadoes have touched down so far today, but a widespread outbreak of large, destructive tornadoes - thus far - has not come to pass.

But it’s too soon for residents in the Texas panhandle and western and central Oklahoma to let their guards down. Dangerous, violent tornadic storms could still develop over the next several hours. And, irrespective of whether strong tornadoes develop and hit population centers, vigorous storms with damaging straight-line winds, flash flooding, and large hail are likely over a large region through the evening.

5:15 p.m. - TV shot captured two tornadoes on the ground north of Oklahoma City

Just before 5 p.m. (4 p.m. central), News9 captured footage of two tornadoes on the ground in western Logan County, which is due north of Oklahoma City:

That storm has since raced off to the northeast and a tornado warning is in effect for southwest Noble and southeast Garfield County until 6 p.m. (5 p.m. central).

At the moment there are four active tornado warnings in western and central Oklahoma.

4:50 p.m. - Tornado and flood could hit same area at same time in Oklahoma, Weather Service warns

The National Weather Service in Norman, Okla. noted that there’s a chance of simultaneous tornado and flash flood warnings in parts of central Oklahoma Monday evening. Such a scenario could create a dilemma since you’re told to shelter underground during a tornado but seek higher ground during a flood.

The Weather Service advised that you can protect yourself being aware of the circumstances around you and making decisions based on what seems like the greatest threat. And it offered the following additional tips:

4:10 p.m. - Storm chaser footage shows images of day’s first tornado near Paducah, Texas

The images below, from social media, show a tornado near Paducah, which is about 110 miles east-northeast of Lubbock, Texas.

3:45 p.m. - First tornado warnings issued as storms start spinning

Storms are erupting in the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma and, in the past 30 minutes, the National Weather Service has issued their first two tornado warnings of the afternoon.

The first warning was issued in northern Texas east-northeast of Lubbock, with the second in western Oklahoma north of Elk City. These were warnings were radar-indicated and tornadoes have not yet been confirmed on the ground.

Spinning storms are projected to continue rapidly developing this afternoon. “[S]torms should quickly evolve into supercell structures capable of significant, long-tracked tornadoes within the next hour or two,” the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center wrote regarding the Texas storms.

2:55 p.m. - ‘Particularly dangerous situation’ tornado watch posted for western and central Oklahoma

Central and western Oklahoma are now under a “particularly dangerous situation” tornado watch, until 10 p.m. central, joining the Texas Panhandle. This kind of watch is reserved for the most serious severe weather situations. The watch includes Oklahoma City and Norman.

The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, which issued the watch, warned “numerous tornadoes and several intense tornadoes expected” in addition to straight line wind gusts to 80 mph, and large hail up to the size of softballs.

It indicated a greater than 95 percent chance (or near certainty) of:

  • At least two tornadoes and one or more strong tornadoes (rated EF2 or higher)
  • 10 or more cases of severe straight-line winds (of at least 58 mph) and at least one case of 75 mph straight-line winds
  • 10 or more cases of severe hail (at least one inch in diameter) and at least one case of hail larger than two inches in diameter

It tweeted that this is only the second time in its history it has issued a watch with such high likelihoods.

In a discussion posted at 1:21 p.m. central, it wrote: “Environmental signals are continuing to point towards a tornado outbreak with multiple strong to potentially violent tornadoes across portions of western and central OK later this afternoon into the evening.”

The outlook added “tornadic potential appears very high” and that both model simulations and environmental conditions “point to a tornado outbreak developing later this afternoon featuring strong to violent long-track tornadoes.”

2:05 p.m. - Veteran storm chaser: ‘Think twice about chasing’

Meteorologist Mike Smith, who has chased tornadoes since 1972, is sitting out today’s storm outbreak given its danger.

“I will not be out today. It is too dangerous,” he tweeted. “The tornadoes will be difficult to see and too dense & flooding could cut off escapes.”

Meanwhile, hordes of storm chasers have congregated in the volatile zone:

1:55 p.m. - ‘Particularly dangerous situation’ tornado watch posted for Texas Panhandle

Amarillo, Abilene, and Lubbock, Texas have been placed under a “particularly dangerous situation” tornado watch until 8 p.m. central. This type of watch is reserved for the most serious severe weather situations. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction warns that multiple tornadoes are expected in the watch area “with a few intense tornadoes likely.” It also projects large hail up to four inches across.


Zone under tornado watch.

Overview from Monday morning

A dangerous severe weather outbreak is set to play out across the southern Plains Monday afternoon and night. Forecasters expect violent tornadoes, widespread flash flooding, and a barrage of hail and wind.

Western and central Oklahoma and parts of the Texas Panhandle are expected to be hardest hit. The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has warned of the potential for an outbreak of “long track and violent” tornadoes in this area, which includes Oklahoma City and Norman, Okla.

The Storm Prediction Center has placed these areas in a rare “high risk” zone for severe weather reserved for only the worst events, which are “long-lived, very widespread, and particularly intense.” Two million Americans are in this volatile zone. This is the first time the Storm Prediction Center has designated a “high risk” area since May 18, 2017.

“I have a feeling it’s going to be one of those outbreaks that we never forget,” tweeted Beth Carpenter, a meteorologist for TDS Weather, a consulting and forensics company.

“This is the rare kind of event that may take many lives,” added Roger Edwards, an atmospheric scientist, longtime storm chaser and weather historian. “Pray I’m wrong.”

The strength of the weather system predicted to trigger these storms is record-challenging, both near the ground and at high altitudes.

Storms will come in multiple waves, with repeated rounds lasting through much of Monday night.

The first batch pushed through early Monday morning, heralded by several clusters of quickly-moving storms warned for three inch-diameter hail and torrential rainfall.

“We’re underway with watches and warnings in what will be a non-stop 24 to 36 hour onslaught of severe storms, flooding and tornadoes,” tweeted Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service forecast office in Norman.

The atmosphere was predicted to turn even more conducive for storms in the afternoon and evening. It will be marked by “extreme instability” according to the Storm Prediction Center, allowing for “rapid supercell formation … [and] a significant threat to life and property.”

A swarm of supercells, the most intense thunderstorms that spin and can spawn tornadoes, are forecast to erupt just west and perhaps a little south of the Oklahoma/Texas border and well east of Interstate 27, tracking northeast at a breakneck 40 to 50 mph pace.

“I’d certainly label this ‘the nightmare scenario',” tweeted Mike Smith, a meteorologist with decades of experience monitoring Midwest storms.

Additional rotating storms are predicted to form in southwest and south central Oklahoma south of Interstate 40 and west of Interstate 35 during this time. The Oklahoma City Metro area could be impacted as storms ride up the H.E. Bailey turnpike early Monday evening.

In an environment like this, conditions can change fast, and storms will evolve rapidly. With the abnormally high amount of wind shear — rotational energy — present in the atmosphere, any storm that fires will begin to rotate.

Tornado probabilities are “off the charts,” tweeted Sam Lillo, a PhD student in meteorology at the University of Oklahoma.

The Storm Prediction Center wrote that the combination of instability and atmospheric spin will likely yield “multiple significant” tornadoes, rated EF2 or higher on the 0 to 5 scale for twister intensity.

In addition to tornadoes, very large hail exceeding the size of softballs and straight-line winds topping 80 mph are possible in the strongest supercells.

With every thunderstorm yielding a risk for eventual tornadoes, forecasters urged residents to stay abreast of up-to-date weather warnings as they’re issued, especially true during the overnight, when tornadoes are likely to continue.

“Have a safety plan, stay calm, and keep up to date with the latest weather information from a trusted source,” the National Weather Service forecast office serving Norman tweeted.

As bad as the tornadoes might get, flooding could be equally dangerous.

The Weather Prediction Center — the branch of the National Weather Service that handles precipitation concerns — has also hoisted a high risk for excessive rainfall.

Its forecast warns that “numerous, potentially significant flash flood events are likely,” the greatest odds in the Oklahoma City to Tulsa corridor northward. That’s where storms will merge and eventually stall Monday night, bringing with them a fire hose of moisture.

Flash flood watches blanket most of Oklahoma and adjacent northwest Arkansas. A widespread four to six inches with localized eight-to-10-inch amounts will fall just north of a stationary front, which will be draped along Interstate 40 and Interstate 44 during the overnight. The storms will last through daybreak Tuesday morning, finally clearing from west to east during the day.


Rainfall forecast through Tuesday from the National Weather Service. (PivotalWeather.com)

Many of these same areas have already seen 200 to 300 percent their “normal” rainfall over the last two weeks, the sodden ground unable to handle much more water. And while predicted to meander just north of the city, if the band of heavy rain crashes south toward the Oklahoma City metro area, the results could be disastrous.

Coincident with the deadly May 31, 2013 tornado in El Reno, Okla., which killed eight people, 13 lives were lost in flash flooding in Oklahoma City.

Monday’s bout of life-threatening weather comes on an already infamous day — May 20. In 2013, this date was marked by an EF-5 tornado that ravaged Moore, Okla. It claimed 24 lives and leveled much of the same community that was slammed by an F5 in 1999. And six years since their last tornado disaster, the community is at risk again.

The city of 60,000 isn’t taking any chances, joining hundreds of other school districts across the Sooner State to shut their doors Monday.

The University of Oklahoma has canceled classes Monday as well, offering students and faculty a list of storm shelters