May 6, 2024

Intense tornadoes possible Monday as rare 'high risk' kicks off a week of severe storms

"Multiple intense, long-track tornadoes" are possible across parts of the southern Plains on Monday as another major severe weather outbreak unfolds across the center of the country.

This is the opening act of another multi-day severe weather threat across the country, the latest in a weeks-long run of severe weather that's hammered the central U.S. over the past few weeks.

Note: The outlook maps in this article were updated at 2:30 p.m. CDT Monday to reflect the SPC's latest forecast.

The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) upgraded portions of Oklahoma and Kansas to a rare high risk for severe weather, the highest threat category that's reserved for days capable of producing a tornado outbreak. This is the first high risk issued by the SPC in more than a year.

All the dynamics are in place to support dangerous storms Monday afternoon and into the nighttime hours. High instability and favorable wind shear will allow any storms that form to quickly intensify and turn severe.

Widespread storms are likely to develop from Nebraska through Oklahoma on Monday afternoon. Storms farther to the north are likely to congeal into one or more squall lines capable of producing damaging winds of 60+ mph, along with a risk for embedded tornadoes.

Farther south, though, storms are likely to develop as individual supercells across southern Kansas and much of central Oklahoma. Forecasters are concerned about the dynamics they see in this area, warranting the upgrade to a high risk.

Any supercells that form in the region could be capable of supporting intense, long-track tornadoes, as well as hail up to the size of softballs, and destructive wind gusts of 75+ mph.

As the evening wears on, those supercells will likely merge into a squall line and truck east after dark, posing a significant risk for damaging wind gusts and embedded tornadoes across eastern sections of the risk areas. Nocturnal severe thunderstorms are especially risky as folks tune out and head to bed. 

Image: SPC

High risk days are rare and dangerous. Forecasters reserve this designation for the most significant days that have the highest potential for storms that could cause significant damage and loss of life.

It's rare for all the ingredients to come together to create a high-end severe weather outbreak. Lots of points of failure are possible. Storms could struggle to form. We could see "messy" storm structures that prevent them from fully engaging with the favorable environment. But the risk is there—and it's serious.

Please take today seriously if you live in the area. If you know folks in the area, make sure they're aware of the risk on Monday. 

Some Safety Tips

Be proactive. Don't let storms take you by surprise. Keep an eye on the radar and local news for live storm coverage, and stay aware of storms heading in your direction.

Make sure you have a way to receive severe weather warnings the moment they're issued. Take a look at your phone and ensure emergency alerts are turned on for tornado warnings. These free push alerts are proven lifesavers, and they only warn you if your location is included in the warning so you know it's nothing to ignore. 

Do not rely on tornado sirens as your first line of defense. Tornado sirens are not meant to be heard indoors. These systems are unreliable and prone to failure. 

Image: NWS Mobile

Form a plan in advance for where you'll seek shelter if you're under a tornado warning. Stay on the lowest level of the building in an interior room, putting as many floors and walls between you and flying debris as possible. Keep blankets, pillows, and a bicycle helmet handy to wear while sheltering. 

Manufactured and mobile homes offer no protection from even the weakest tornado. If you're in one of these unsafe structures, have a secondary shelter location in mind and go there before the storms arrive.

Wear closed-toe shoes today to protect your feet if you have to walk through debris.

If you're driving when a tornado warning is issued, do not stop under an overpass. Bridges offer no protection from tornadic winds or flying debris—they actually make the winds stronger. Stopping under a bridge to shelter from a tornado or large hail often causes traffic jams that can lead to serious car accidents or worse if a tornado hits that location.

Tuesday's Threat

Tuesday's severe weather outlook begins at 7:00 a.m. EDT. This threat will play out in two regions.

First, Monday's severe weather will continue through the overnight hours as the squall line pushes east into the Mississippi Valley through the pre-dawn hours on Tuesday. This covers the risk near the Mississippi River.

Later in the day, a broken line of thunderstorms is likely to develop along the cold front as it tracks east through the Midwest and Ohio Valley. The strongest of these storms will be capable of producing damaging wind gusts and a couple of isolated tornadoes.

Wednesday's Threat

A new low-pressure system will develop in Texas and quickly scoot toward the Midwest by the middle of the week, leading to a renewed threat for widespread severe thunderstorms on Wednesday.

This expansive risk stretches from central Texas to western Massachusetts, with the bulk of the severe weather expected from the Dallas metro area up through the heart of the Ohio Valley.

Widespread damaging wind gusts of 75+ mph will be possible in and around the enhanced risk area on Wednesday, along with a potential for a few strong tornadoes. Scattered severe storms are possible for folks in the eastern states, as well, with damaging winds possible in the stronger storms that develop.

Initial thunderstorms could start as supercells west of the Mississippi early in the day Wednesday. The threat will likely evolve as multiple broken squall lines through the day, with embedded supercells possible. 

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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.