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Weekend severe storms may hit some central US communities hard

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 5/14/2022 Alex Sosnowski

Thunderstorms will remain quite active over parts of the central United States through this weekend. Storms on Sunday may not only disrupt outdoor activities and travel, but they could also be locally damaging and dangerous in portions of the Mississippi and Ohio valleys, AccuWeather meteorologists warn. The severe weather threat is expected to extend into the Northeast on Monday.

Following storms that are likely to be both very drenching and gusty into Saturday evening, the atmosphere will turn up the intensity a bit on Sunday as a cool front begins to push eastward into a zone of very warm and humid air for the middle of May.

A mosaic or pockets of thunderstorms will form into Saturday evening from portions of the southern Plains to the Great Lakes region and the central Gulf Coast. Some of these storms can bring brief urban flooding and strong enough winds to break tree limbs and trigger highly localized power outages.

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Some of the taller thunderstorms can be seen casting a shadow on Saturday morning, May 14, 2022, in this satellite image of the central and eastern United States. (GOES-East/NOAA)

Into Saturday evening, the biggest storms are likely to fire in parts of western and central Texas and Oklahoma. In this zone, the storms will tend to erupt late in the day along the boundary between dry, desert air to the west, and hot Gulf of Mexico air to the east. The strongest storms over the southern High Plains have the potential to bring AccuWeather Local StormMax™ wind gusts to 70 mph Saturday evening.

On Sunday, the hot and humid air over the Mississippi Valley will be squeezed by a push of cooler and less humid air from the northern and central Plains. Towering clouds will likely lead to thunderstorms that fire along a line from southern Michigan to southern Missouri and southeastern Kansas.

The greatest threats from the storms on Sunday will be from AccuWeather Local StormMax™ wind gusts to 80 mph and flash flooding. Winds this strong can knock over weak trees and lead to property damage. Hailstones in some of the strongest storms can grow large enough to damage vehicles and plants, as well as break windows.

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There is the potential for a concentration or cluster of storms to form near the southern part of the thunder zone on Sunday. If a complex of thunderstorms forms, the risk of flash flooding and damaging wind gusts could end up being more of a regional issue, rather than an isolated event. The complex could evolve into a derecho, provided the storms produce consistent damage along a swath of approximately 240 miles or more.

On Thursday afternoon and evening, a high-powered derecho developed in north-central Kansas and Nebraska and moved along hundreds of miles to southeastern South Dakota and central Minnesota.

The most likely area for a derecho or lesser but potent thunderstorm complex to occur on Sunday is from southeastern Kansas and southern Missouri, to eastern Oklahoma and northern Arkansas. Even if such a batch of thunderstorms does not evolve to the derecho threshold, the hilly landscape in the Ozark Mountain region is prone to flash flooding. Campers in the region should keep up to date due to the risk of rapidly changing weather and small stream conditions, meteorologists advise.

Rainfall over the past couple of weeks has varied significantly in the region that could be targeted by the thunderstorm complex with soil conditions ranging from dry to nearly saturated. Some locations, such as Fort Smith, Arkansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Springfield, Missouri, have received between one and a half and two times their normal rainfall for the first half of May.

Should a complex of storms indeed form, it could continue to move along even farther to the south and east Sunday night.

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Regardless, the overall line of thunderstorms associated with the cold front will continue to advance Sunday night and stretch from southern Ontario and western New York state, to northwestern Mississippi and central Arkansas. Storms could lead to airline delays as they approach the hubs of Detroit, St. Louis and Cincinnati. Potent thunderstorms could survive well after dark with window-rattling thunder and vivid lightning.

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The passage of the front will shave 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit off daytime and nighttime temperatures. Following highs in the 80s and 90s over much of the Central states on Saturday, highs will be in the 60s and 70s in many locations on Sunday. Humidity levels will be chopped over much of the north-central region as well, while the air will likely stay humid farther south.

As the front continues to press on to the east, severe weather is again likely to ramp up in portions of the central Appalachians, mid-Atlantic and New England regions on Monday and Monday night.

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The main threat will again be from high winds where AccuWeather Local StormMax™ wind gusts can reach 80 mph. Just like that of the Central states, some of the stronger storms could bring damaging hail and isolated flash flooding. Since more jet stream energy may accompany the severe weather setup in the Northeast, when compared to the Central states, there is also the potential for a couple of tornadoes in the strongest storms.

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