Southeast Missouri is squarely within the High Risk of Severe Thunderstorms zone for this afternoon.
This is the fifth High Risk day in 2011 for the country, but the first for the Cape Girardeau area. In fact, if Wikipedia is accurate, this is the first High Risk designation for Cape Girardeau since Feb. 8, 2008 (although we came close one time in 2010).
The previous High Risk days in 2011 have produced copious tornadoes, including the Alabama outbreak on April 27, which resulted in the deadliest High Risk day since the Storm Prediction Center started issuing their threat assessments in the 1980s. Yesterday was also a High Risk day for Oklahoma, and we saw what happened there.
The Storm Prediction Center also issues probabilities for each category of severe weather event -- tornadoes, large hail (one inch or larger), and high winds (58 mph or stronger). The percentages are based on the chance that something will happen within 25 miles of a point. So this doesn't mean that, for example, Cape Girardeau will see a tornado, but perhaps somebody within 25 miles would.
Today's charts are, to pick a word, incredible. Certainly these are the worst percentages that we've seen locally in a few years.
We're in the 30% zone for tornadoes. In addition, we have a 10% chance of seeing a strong (EF-2 or worse) tornado within 25 miles.
The chance of large hail is even worse. That number stands at 45% for 1-inch hail and 10% for 2-inch hail.
Finally, the threat for high winds is slightly lower at 30% for Southeast Missouri, although much of Kentucky has a 45% chance.
In a nutshell, somebody is going to get hammered. It may not be here, but it's going to be nearby and it's going to be ugly. The track record for the Storm Prediction Center has been pretty good. During the last few years, a handful of the High Risk days have been busts, but most have produced major tornado outbreaks.
The storms are expected to start rolling around noon and I suspect we'll see a Tornado Watch -- probably a PDS version (Particularly Dangerous Situation) -- within the next few hours.
In this morning's forecast discussion, the Paducah NWS office says:
THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT THERE WILL BE NUMEROUS VIOLENT ROTATING STORMS ACROSS THE ENTIRE QUAD STATE THIS AFTERNOON AND INTO THE EVENING...AND IT IS QUITE POSSIBLE THAT SOME LOCATIONS MAY SEE 2 OR 3 ROUNDS OF STORMS THROUGH THE AFTERNOON AND EVENING. HEAVY RAINFALL AND FLASH FLOODING MAY BECOME A PROBLEM IN AREAS THAT EXPERIENCE MULTIPLE ROUNDS OF STORMS.
Their Hazardous Weather Outlook explains:
SCATTERED THUNDERSTORMS WILL DEVELOP OVER SOUTHEAST MISSOURI AND SOUTHERN ILLINOIS...POSSIBLY AS EARLY AS THE LATE MORNING HOURS. VERY STRONG WIND FIELDS AND PLENTIFUL INSTABILITY WILL ALLOW THE STORMS TO QUICKLY BECOME SEVERE...WITH LARGE HAIL...STRONG TORNADOES...AND DAMAGING WINDS. THE STORMS WILL MOVE RAPIDLY NORTHEAST ACROSS THE QUAD STATE REGION THROUGH THE AFTERNOON. OTHER SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS MAY DEVELOP FARTHER EAST ACROSS THE AREA DURING THE AFTERNOON.
FINALLY...A LINE OF SEVERE STORMS WITH AN INCREASING DAMAGING WIND THREAT WILL MOVE INTO WESTERN PORTIONS OF THE AREA AROUND 5 PM...AND THEN SWEEP THROUGH THE ENTIRE AREA THROUGH THE EVENING. TORNADOES...LARGE HAIL...AND HEAVY RAINFALL WILL ALSO BE POSSIBLE WITH THIS LINE. THE SEVERE WEATHER THREAT SHOULD BE EAST OF THE ENTIRE AREA BY MIDNIGHT.
Joplin tornado update
The NWS has upgraded the Joplin tornado to an EF-5, the strongest category, with estimated winds over 200 mph. Jeff Masters over at Wunderground.com has all the details. Our sister newspaper in Monett has a photo gallery of the Joplin aftermath.