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Severe weather, flood risk from huge storm to grind eastward into Friday

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 5/25/2022 Alex Sosnowski

A massive and slow-moving storm system will bring the risk of flooding downpours and locally violent thunderstorms to portions of the Mississippi Valley into Wednesday night and then the Ohio and Tennessee valleys as well as the southern Appalachians on Thursday, prior to reaching the East Coast on Friday, AccuWeather meteorologists warn.

The storm brought a general 3-6 inches of rain to the southern Plains with close to a foot falling on Cushing, Oklahoma, over a 36-hour period into Wednesday morning.

A line of severe thunderstorms attributed to the large system produced dozens of incidents of severe weather ranging from tornadoes to high winds and large hail as it roared southeastward across Texas on Tuesday night, according to AccuWeather Senior On-Air Meteorologist Geoff Cornish said.

"Hail up to the size of softballs fell on Knickerbocker, Texas," Cornish said. "Midland, Texas, was pummeled with hail the size of large apples and rocked with hurricane-force wind gusts to 74 mph. Wind gusts in Sundown, Texas, reached 78 mph."

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As the storms move to the east, hot and dry conditions will build across the southern and central Plains later this week and into the Memorial Day weekend.

There will be sufficient warmth to boost some thunderstorms to damaging levels during the afternoon and evening hours on Wednesday and Thursday, AccuWeather Chief Broadcast Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said.

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Clouds associated with a massive storm were covering approximately 900,000 square miles of the central United States as of Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (GOES-East/NOAA)

Many of the storms will be isolated in nature, but there is still some risk for storms to organize into a couple of large complexes. "[People will] have to watch for discrete severe cells that erupt ahead of a line of severe thunderstorms, especially in the Southern states, as these tend to be most likely to produce tornadoes," Rayno said.

The storms will also tend to wring out copious amounts of Gulf of Mexico moisture in the form of torrential downpours.

The risk of severe thunderstorms will tend to overlap much of the area at risk for localized flash flooding through Thursday night and will be focused along an 800-mile-long swath into Wednesday night from southern Louisiana and the panhandles of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Farther north, the storms will also threaten the northern parts of Illinois and Indiana, as well as the southern tier of Michigan.

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The greatest threats to lives and property into Wednesday night will come from powerful wind gusts, lightning strikes and a few tornadoes. An AccuWeather Local StormMax™ wind gust to 80 mph can occur in the strongest storms.

Forecasters say the greatest risk of tornadoes will occur within a couple of hundred miles of the Gulf Coast, and waterspouts will also be possible along the shores of the central Gulf Coast. A few incidents of large hail are also likely, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.

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A general 1-3 inches of rain will fall in the 800-mile-long zone. Much of that rain may fall in a few hours or less and can lead to urban flooding and quick rises on small streams where the soil is saturated. In some cases, such as in parts of Louisiana and some areas around the Great Lakes region, where drought is a concern, the rain could be beneficial unless it comes down too fast, which could result in hazardous flooding.

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Several major cities are at risk for both severe thunderstorms and flash flooding into Wednesday night including the metro areas surrounding Chicago, Memphis, Tennessee, and Jackson, Mississippi.

On Thursday, the severe weather threat and torrential downpours will shift eastward and extend along much of the Interstate 65 corridor from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and on to portions of the southern Appalachians.

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The main threats to lives and property will stem from high wind gusts and flash flooding from Thursday into Thursday night. The greatest risk of a few isolated tornadoes is likely to be from near I-20 to areas south of the interstate -- essentially the central portions of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi on southward.

Atlanta is among the major cities at risk for both severe thunderstorms and flash flooding on Thursday, as well as the Nashville and Cincinnati metro areas farther to the north and west.

The risk of flash flooding on Thursday will be greatest over the mountains and in the hilly terrain, where a general 2-4 inches of rain is likely with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 9 inches possible. However, even outside of the mountains, 1-2 inches of rain that may come down over a very brief period of time could lead to street flooding.

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As the storm continues to move steadily along, the risk of severe thunderstorms will shift east of the Appalachians on Friday and extend from the Carolinas to parts of south-central and southeastern Pennsylvania.

Just as in prior days, the main threats will be due to high wind gusts and flash flooding. Some of the strongest storms at the end of the week could produce hail and perhaps an isolated tornado.

"The risk of severe thunderstorms on Friday, with localized flash flooding, is likely to extend from north and west of Philadelphia, southward to Charlotte, North Carolina, and Columbia, South Carolina," AccuWeather Meteorologist Nicole LoBiondo said.

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Depending on how far to the northeast warm and humid air expands on Friday, there is a chance that strong to severe thunderstorms could reach into the New York City metro area, LoBiondo said.

By Saturday, AccuWeather forecasters expect, the threat of severe thunderstorms will have subsided across much of the nation, except for one highly-populated region. Strong storms could develop along the mid-Atlantic coast, and downpours may be intense enough to lead to localized street flooding in coastal areas of the Northeast as well.

The same massive storm system will lead to a wet start to the long Memorial Day weekend in the Northeast, but conditions should improve substantially by Monday across much of the eastern United States.

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