Why tornadoes are a concern in the Southeast today

A tornado in Texas earlier this year. Tornadoes are a concern in parts of the Southeast today and tonight.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Severe weather is increasing likely today and tonight across parts of the Southeast, where strong tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds are all concerns.

The latest outlook from the Storm Prediction Center is highlighting portions of the Deep South in a moderate risk for severe weather.

Severe weather risk Tuesday

This means conditions are highly favorable for severe weather in states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Why the concern?

A powerful cold front will be pushing into the area today, which will create showers and storms across the region.

Moisture lifting north will help fuel storms.

There is plenty of moisture across the area, allowing for numerous showers and storms to develop.

In addition, cold air in the upper-levels will allow hail to form, and some large hail is possible.

But what makes the potential for severe weather so high is the wind shear involved.

Wind shear the key ingredient

Wind shear is the change of wind speed or direction with height.

In wind shear events, winds out of the surface will be in one direction while at the upper-levels, the winds will be in a different direction.

It is also possible to have wind shear when the winds are of the same direction, but the speed is different.

Wind shear will allow storms to rotate, which could cause tornadoes to form.

In today’s event, winds will becoming from two different directions, which will create directional wind shear.

The high wind shear values will allow thunderstorms to begin rotating, which is the first step in a storm creating a tornado.

Because the wind shear will be long-lasting and expansive, supercells thunderstorms will be capable of producing strong, long-track tornadoes across portions of the Deep South.

Much of Mississippi has been outlooked at a 15% tornado chance. This means there is a 15% chance of a tornado within 25 miles of any point.

While this may seem low, this actually means there is almost a 2 in 10 chance of a tornado touching down within 25 miles of a neighborhood in central Mississippi.

What about Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia?

While this is a potent storm system, the good news is the system will weaken significantly as it approaches the area on Wednesday.

The cold front will still move through the area, but the upper-level energy will quickly pivot into the Mid-Atlantic states.

Severe weather outlook for Wednesday

Some strong storms will still be possible in Southeast Georgia, with the greatest threat being strong winds.

Better weather will return to our local area late week.


About the Author:

David Heckard is The Weather Authority's Assistant Chief Meteorologist.