James Spann: Strong to severe storms possible late Thursday

MILD, WINDY AFTERNOON: Temperatures are in the 70s across Alabama this afternoon with a mix of sun and clouds. While our weather is calm here, we are watching a very deep surface low over Kansas; the pressure has dropped to 972 mb. A blizzard is in progress at Denver; winds at Denver International Airport have gusted to 80 mph. Blizzard warnings are in effect across the High Plains, and south and east of the surface low, in the warm sector, showers and storms continue to develop.

STRONG STORMS LATE THURSDAY: The surface low will slowly fill Thursday; it should be over Iowa by afternoon. As the trailing front approaches, showers and storms will slowly increase across Alabama. The Storm Prediction Center maintains a slight risk (level 2 out of 5) of severe thunderstorms west of a line from Huntsville to Tuscaloosa to Emelle, and a marginal risk (level 1 of 5) as far east as Gadsden, Calera, Camden and Jackson.

TIMING: While a few strong storms could form during the afternoon, the latest high-resolution model output really suggests the main threat for severe thunderstorms will come Thursday night, after 6 p.m. Storms should weaken after midnight as the main upper support continues to lift away from us.

THREATS: Stronger storms will be capable of producing strong, gusty winds, small hail and possibly an isolated tornado or two. The highest tornado threat is over northwest Alabama in the slight-risk area.

GRADIENT WINDS: During the day, even with no thunderstorms involved, we will experience south winds averaging 12-25 mph, with gusts to 30 at times, because of the tight pressure gradient.

RAIN: Rain amounts will be around 1 inch. We don’t expect any flooding issues.

FRIDAY AND THE WEEKEND: For the northern half of Alabama, lingering rain will end Friday morning, and the sky becomes partly sunny by afternoon. But rain could continue into the afternoon over the southern half of the state. The day will be cooler with a high in the 60- to 65-degree range.

The weekend will be dry, but temperatures will be below average. Lows will be well down in the 30s Saturday and Sunday morning; the most widespread frost will most likely come early Sunday, when the wind will be near calm. Colder spots will drop into the 20s over the northern half of the state. The sky will be sunny both days with a high not too far from 60 degrees.

NEXT WEEK: For now the entire week looks dry for Alabama. Lows will remain in the 30s Monday and Tuesday, followed by 40s Wednesday through Friday mornings. Highs throughout the week will be mostly in the 60s.

ON THIS DATE IN 1990: Thunderstorms produced severe weather from northwest Texas to Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska during the day and into the night. Severe thunderstorms spawned 59 tornadoes, including 26 strong or violent tornadoes, and there were about 200 reports of large hail or damaging winds. There were 48 tornadoes in Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa, and some of the tornadoes in those three states were the strongest on record for so early in the season, and for so far northwest in the United States. The most powerful tornado of the day was one that tore through the central Kansas community of Hesston. The F5 tornado killed two people, injured 60 others and caused $22 million in damage along its 67-mile path.

WEATHER RADIO PROGRAMMING IN JACKSONVILLE: We will be in Jacksonville next Monday night, March 18, programming weather radios. Bring your weather radio and we will check it for you; we will be on the fifth floor of Jacksonville State University Stadium from 4 until 6:30 p.m. I will be there doing weather live on ABC 33/40.

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