Damaging winds, large hail and even tornadoes will hit the most densely populated region of the United States on Monday afternoon and could wreak havoc on overnight commutes.
A meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Washington said by phone this morning: “In terms of severe weather forecasts, today’s day could be the widest of this season so far.”
More than 100 million people will be on alert this Monday, as a cold front crosses areas such as New York City, Washington and Philadelphia, to name a few.
The serious threat has us a little worried today, to be honest. It’s not unheard of for tornadoes to occur in these areas, but they are much rarer than what we see in the Southeast and the Plains.
Just last year, multiple tornadoes hit the DC area, and tornado watches were issued in the nation’s capital less than two months ago. You may remember the viral video of the DC meteorologist alerting his family on live TV as a tornado was closing in on them.
More than 28 million people are included in today’s highest risk zone, which is a level 3 out of 5 “elevated” risk of severe weather. Philadelphia and Washington are included in Monday’s highest-risk area.
New York City, Raleigh and Norfolk are included in a “slight” risk of severe weather, which is level 2 of 5.
“Damaging winds appear to be the main threat, but large hail and some tornadoes are possible,” the NWS Baltimore/Washington office said.
The storm, step by step
The storms will occur in several rounds on Monday, with short-lived storms developing ahead of the main storm line in the early afternoon, between noon and 3 p.m. The storms form from convective cells in a manner isolated and not part of a larger storm line.
“These storms are often the most dangerous and the most likely to produce tornadoes, because they can take advantage of the entire environment of the storm and the energy around it,” said Citizen Free Press Meteorologist Dave Hennen. “The storms in a line are competing with other storms around them, which can take some of the energy and disrupt the winds that can cause a tornado.”
Most NWS offices noted the risk of isolated convective cells — storms that form on their own — in their forecast analyzes as of Monday morning, including New York.
“Any isolated convective cell that gets going could produce large hail or even an isolated tornado,” the NWS New York City office said.
By mid-afternoon, the cold front will move from the Appalachians into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, as the second round of severe weather begins to move in.
The risk of severe t’storms over much of our region today is ENHANCED (level 3 of 5). Damaging winds appear to be the primary threat, but hail, a few tornadoes, & flooding are also possible. Remain alert for rapidly changing weather conditions late this AM through the afternoon. pic.twitter.com/G4f1NkUO09
— NWS Baltimore-Washington (@NWS_BaltWash) May 16, 2022
“These rounds will only be a couple of hours apart, so the bottom line is that numerous scattered severe storms will impact the area this afternoon through early tonight from west to east,” the Baltimore/Washington NWS office said.
The severe weather that accompanies the cold front will primarily be a wind threat. “Damaging straight-line winds of 55-60+ mph remain the primary threat,” the NWS Philadelphia office said.
The cold front will be racing through major cities during the peak of afternoon travel as well. “Anyone planning to travel or be outdoors today should pay extra attention to any watches and warnings, and be ready to quickly seek shelter,” the NWS Baltimore/DC office said.
With the storms moving quickly, there is only a slight risk of flash flooding, but with the nature of this event and the torrential downpours expected, be on the lookout for possible flash flooding.
“Rain rates will likely be intense, meaning if any area near or above the urban corridor is hit with multiple rounds this could lead to flash flooding,” the NWS Philadelphia office said.
As the front continues to push east, it will slowly weaken. The storms should move away from the coast overnight.
Storms are also possible over the nation’s largest wildfire. But they probably won’t bring any help in the form of rain.
Wildfires show no sign of abating
This image of the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire was taken from space on May 10 and shows a pyrocumulus cloud forming on the north side of the fire.
The Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire is now the largest fire in New Mexico state history and shows no signs of slowing down.
As of Monday morning, the fire has burned 120,620 hectares and is 27% contained.
Red flag warnings are in effect again in the area today, meaning conditions could allow the fire to spread further.
“Dry lightning with sudden and strong erratic wind changes from any nearby storms” could cause fire lines to spread or shift rapidly. Winds from the storms’ landslides could gust to nearly 100 km/h, along with a 1 in 5 risk of damaging storm-force winds with some of the storms. “Any new or ongoing fire will be very difficult to control,” the warning says.
Fire watches are also in effect in West Texas, where the fire danger will reach a level 2 of 3 critical range on Tuesday afternoon.
Fire weather will only get worse as the heat continues to increase in the South this week.
Over the next few days, more than 200 daily high temperatures are forecast from the Southwest to the East Coast by midweek.