May 4, 2018

Damaging Winds and Tornadoes Are Possible in the Northeast on Friday Afternoon

There's a moderate risk for severe thunderstorms on Friday across interior parts of the Northeast as intense storms develop during the afternoon and evening hours. A moderate risk is a 4 on a scale that runs from 1 to 5. Any thunderstorms that develop in the risk areas will form in an environment capable of sustaining destructive straight-line wind gusts, tornadoes, and some large hail.

Thunderstorms are already firing up ahead of a cold front extending off of a low-pressure system moving through southern Ontario and Quebec today. Temperatures in the upper 70s and some low 80s across the Northeast, combined with dew points in the low 60s, will provide the instability and moisture necessary to sustain the storms once they develop.

Severe thunderstorm watches are in effect from eastern Ohio to eastern New York ahead of the storms this afternoon. A tornado watch covers northern New York and much of Vermont through this evening. Thunderstorms are starting to pop up near Lakes Erie and Ontario as of the publication of this post, and storms will continue to develop and push east through the evening hours. The severe weather should clear out after sunset.

The latest forecast from the Storm Prediction Center shows an enhanced risk for severe thunderstorms across interior parts of the Northeast, with the greatest threat for damaging winds and tornadoes focused on New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

Wind is the greatest threat on Friday. Winds are racing just a few thousand feet above the surface. It won't take much for thunderstorms to mix some of those intense winds down to the surface.

The SPC's latest forecast shows an area of significant damaging winds possible; both the severe thunderstorm and tornado watches mention thunderstorm wind gusts up to 80 MPH possible. The black hatching on the map above shows the risk for significant damaging winds. Winds that strong will easily blow down trees and power lines and possibly cause some damage to roofs and windows.

The environment here is also capable of supporting tornadoes in any discrete thunderstorms or along the leading edge of squall lines that move through the region. The latest SPC forecast denotes a 10% risk for tornadoes near the Canadian border in New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire, with a lower risk radiating southward from there.

Such an elevated risk for severe weather in an SPC forecast is uncommon so far north in New England, occurring only once every couple of years on average. This is only the second 10% tornado probability for Burlington, Vermont since the IEM's records begin back in March 2002. The point is that the risk for severe weather today is much higher than normal for a part of the country that typically doesn't see much in the way of bad storms.

Weather doesn't stop at the border. (Wouldn't that be wild, though?) The risk for severe weather extends into the southern parts of Ontario and Quebec. Environment Canada has issued severe thunderstorm watches for parts of southern Ontario as the line of storms sweeps through this afternoon.

If you're in the affected areas, make sure you're close to safe shelter when storms threaten your area. It's a good idea to take mental note of supplies you have just in case the power goes out. An extended power outage around dinner time isn't the best if you don't have any ready-to-eat food and local restaurants are closed. Stay away from parts of your home where large trees or limbs may fall in high winds. Straight-line winds can cause as much damage as a tornado, just over a wider area.

If a tornado warning is issued, seek shelter on the lowest possible floor and in an interior room, putting as many walls between you and the outdoors as possible. You won't be able to see a tornado before it hits. Tornadoes in this part of the country are usually obstructed by terrain and trees, and tornadoes in the kind of storms we'll see today will likely be obscured by heavy rain—you won't see it until it's on top of you.

UPDATE: This post was updated at 4:30 PM EDT to reflect the latest forecast from the Storm Prediction Center, which upgraded some areas to a moderate risk and expanded the enhanced risk area.

[Maps: Dennis Mersereau]

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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.