Elevated Tornado Threat from Omaha to Oklahoma City

June 20, 2011; 6:02 AM
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The dark red area highlights the greatest risk for tornadoes. However, all of the shaded area is at risk for violent thunderstorms, including a tornado.

"This situation seems likely to produce a number of tornadoes of EF-3 strength."


A wound-up storm rolling out of the Rockies has potential to bring the worst tornado outbreak since May to parts of the Plains into tonight.

The combination of very warm, humid air at the surface, shifting of winds with height, and a strong jet stream overhead has the atmosphere locked and loaded from Oklahoma to Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and the northwestern half of Missouri.

The storms were hitting parts of western Kansas and Nebraska hard during the mid-afternoon Monday, but will work farther to the east this evening.

There is an elevated risk for multiple violent thunderstorms in this corridor, and a number of which can produce strong tornadoes.

There is substantial risk to lives and property from late today into tonight, when the storms will reach maximum intensity.

According to Severe Weather Expert Henry Margusity, "This situation seems likely to produce a number of tornadoes of EF-3 strength."

Tornadoes of this magnitude on the Enhance Fujita Tornado Damage Scale produce winds of 136 to 165 mph and can not only bring severe damage to structures, but also pose a major threat to lives due to flying debris.

Major metropolitan areas at risk of being hit by the tornado swarm include Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Omaha, Kansas City, Topeka, Wichita, Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

The area of concern also includes many farms and ranches over the open countryside, as well as dozens of smaller towns and cities.

Among the list of cities that may be under attack from the atmosphere tonight is tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo.

Part of the Missouri city was leveled by a powerful tornado on May 22, 2011. The large wedge EF-5 tornado killed over 150 people.

"This is a rare situation for June in that we don't usually see a setup for tornadoes quite like this, so late in the season," Margusity said.

The threat for severe thunderstorms, including tornadoes, will continue to shift "slowly" eastward into the Midwest at midweek.

The swath from Chicago and Milwaukee to St. Louis and Little Rock may be in the heart of the tornado threat Tuesday and Tuesday night.

Meteorologist Katie Storbeck describes the severe weather risk in other areas, including the Midwest to the Virginias, into tonight in this story.

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