March 24, 2020

Some Strong Tornadoes Are Possible In Alabama And Tennessee On Tuesday Evening

Not for nothing, but the recent questions about whether it's safe to break social distancing to seek shelter from tornadoes in community storm shelters wasn't a hypothetical. There's a risk for severe thunderstorms across parts of the southeastern United States this afternoon and evening, with a risk for damaging winds, large hail, and tornadoes. Some of the tornadoes could be strong or long-tracked. The threat will ramp up in the late afternoon and evening hours, clearing out as the night progresses.

Today's setup is common for what you'd see on a late March afternoon. A weak low over southeastern Oklahoma will set the stage for the severe weather today. Thunderstorms will develop in the warm, muggy air over the southeastern states as the low moves east through the evening.

Severe thunderstorms are possible this afternoon and evening across a wide area from Little Rock to Myrtle Beach. Any thunderstorms that form across this area today could produce damaging wind gusts in excess of 60 MPH, hail the size of quarters or larger, and tornadoes.

There's plenty of wind shear in the atmosphere for thunderstorms to organize into supercells along and near the warm front. As a result, the Storm Prediction Center issued an enhanced risk for severe weather in northern Alabama and southern Tennessee, including Huntsville, Decatur, and Florence. The area under the enhanced risk got upgraded due to a 10% risk for "significant" tornadoes, which means the environment is capable of supporting strong (EF-2+) or long-tracked tornadoes.

Most folks are home right now as a result of school and business closures. It's important to pay attention to the weather even as we try to distract ourselves from the boredom at home. Peeking at the radar on a weather app, leaving local news or The Weather Channel on in the background, keeping the NWS open in another tab...anything that keeps the weather in constant view is a good plan today so warnings don't pop up by surprise.

The best way to receive tornado warnings is to activate the emergency alerts on your smartphone. Even if all the other alerts are disables, make sure tornado warnings are switched on. These alerts go off the moment a tornado warning is issued for your location. They've alerted me to tornado warnings when I wasn't paying attention before, and I'm constantly staring at the radar. It's a good system to have.

Oh, one more thing. Please...pretty please...don't rely on tornado sirens for tornado warnings. These systems are only designed to be heard outdoors and there's no guarantee they'll work at all in the middle of a raging thunderstorm.

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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.