May 20, 2024

Severe storms may produce strong tornadoes in the Midwest on Tuesday

An active spring severe weather season rolls on across the central United States this week as a multi-day storm threat unfolds over the region. 

Tuesday looks to feature the strongest and most widespread storm risk, with severe storms targeting the eastern Plains and Midwest through the day.

The Setup

A model image showing the upper levels of the atmosphere on Tuesday morning. || Image: Tropical Tidbits

The country is split in two right now between a ridge over the southern and eastern U.S. and a broad trough over the west. This setup is the driving force behind the warmth and the storm risk we'll see through the week.

It's going to be a hot week for much of the country as daytime highs frequently soar into the 80s and 90s beneath that ridge from the desert southwest all the way into interior New England. 

Meanwhile, the trough out west will force the development of a low-pressure system over the central Plains on Monday. This storm will quickly gather strength as it moves north toward Iowa and Minnesota through the day on Tuesday.

Widespread thunderstorms are expected to develop as the low and its fronts send unstable air surging skyward. This low will drag a slug of warm and humid air north into the Midwest, feeding thunderstorms the fuel they need to survive and thrive. Plenty of wind shear aloft will allow these storms to quickly turn severe. 

The Storm Prediction Center issued an enhanced risk for severe weather—a level 3 out of 5—for a wide swath of the Midwest from central Missouri to northern Wisconsin. The overall risk for severe weather covers much of the central U.S. from Dallas north toward the international border across the Great Lakes.

Like so many severe weather events of this caliber, the storms will unfold in different stages throughout the day. Discrete thunderstorms early in the day could turn into supercells capable of supporting tornadoes in addition to the risk for large hail and damaging wind gusts.

The greatest risk for tornadic supercells exists in the warm airmass southeast of the low's center, which is likely to fall over the eastern half of Iowa, extending into portions of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Missouri. Dynamics are favorable for one or two strong, long-lived tornadoes in this region.

As the afternoon and evening wear on, storms will start to merge and congeal into one or more squall lines, at which point the main threat will transition over to damaging straight-line winds with the potential for embedded tornadoes. These storms will likely continue well into the nighttime hours as they race east into the Great Lakes region.

Image: NWS Mobile

Nighttime severe thunderstorms are particularly dangerous because it's easy to miss warnings as we tune out and wind down for the evening. Don't let storms take you by surprise. 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. 

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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.