Tornado Alley Outbreak?

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By Sean Downey on April 10, 2012, 5:13am

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While I am not an operational forecaster anymore, I still spend a lot of time analyzing the model data while I enjoy my morning coffee. What I see this morning shaping up for the weekend and early next week for the Plains is somewhat troubling.

This is springtime, and with it comes a clash between colder air retreating northward and warmer tropical air making inroads from the south.  Typically the battleground for this titanic battle occurs over the Plains states, commonly referred to as “Tornado Alley”. In the springtime, and again in the fall, we look for increased tornado activity in this area.  As recently as last week we were all watching footage of big twisters ripping through Dallas, tossing tractor trailers as if they were toys. Sadly, it looks like there will be more of that footage in the news this weekend.

Looking over the model guidance this morning, it looks as if a potentially severe tornado outbreak is possible later this week through early next week as a storm moves into the Plains States.  Many of the numerical models are suggesting that a powerful storm will move onshore from the Pacific and strengthen as it moves into the Four Corners region.  Colder air  drawn southward will clash with the warmer air being forced northward ahead of the system, setting up an epic battle over the central and southern Plains this weekend into early next week. Above is a snapshot from the GFS model, centered around 156 hours (forecast valid for Monday afternoon). This map shows the heights at 500 mb (about 3 miles up). The wind barbs show wind speed and direction. You can see that the flow across Texas and Oklahoma is from the southwest at upwards of 80 knots. This will act to transport warmer moist air from the Southwest over the Plains, and with energy spinning around the low (centered over Colorado in this picture, it won;t take much to set off strong to severe thunderstorms and the possibility for tornadoes.

Now I know this is way out in the future, possibly even fantasy, but when virtually every piece of guidance starts to suggest the same thing (and we have many tools at our disposal) one needs to start paying close attention. It is kind of funny to note that the storm being modeled to wreak all this havoc is currently somewhere over the eastern Pacific. We shall see what transpires over the next few days.

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Sean Downey

Town: Waterbury, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since February 2012.

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