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Weary of this week’s severe weather? Too bad — it’s likely to stick around

Missouri tornado damage traps people in homes

The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado touched down in Jefferson City, Missouri on May 22, 2019. Jefferson City Police Lt. David Williams said the department got calls about people trapped in their homes.
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The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado touched down in Jefferson City, Missouri on May 22, 2019. Jefferson City Police Lt. David Williams said the department got calls about people trapped in their homes.

This isn’t the news you want to hear, but you need to hear it anyway: The system that has wreaked deadly tornadoes and severe thunderstorms over the Midwest isn’t going away any time soon.

Experts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are forecasting the risks of severe thunderstorms and potential tornadoes through Tuesday.

“That’s not to say the threat ends Tuesday,” said Patrick Marsh, warning coordination meteorologist for NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center. “Just beyond Tuesday, so many days of thunderstorms, we’re uncertain what happens Wednesday and Thursday. It’s entirely possible thunderstorms continue past Tuesday.”

Sorry about those Memorial Day weekend plans.

But this weather pattern over the Midwest has produced the classic combination of circumstances for severe weather, coupled with a stubborn inability for that system to move out.

This week’s weather has resulted in more than 200 reported tornadoes in the United States, much of them in the Midwest and south-central regions, according to preliminary data from the Storm Prediction Center.

Storm systems in southwest Missouri on Wednesday evening produced a tornado that turned deadly in Golden City. Another twister overnight exacted widespread damage in Jefferson City, but no confirmed fatalities there as of Thursday afternoon.

According to the National Weather Service, a strong tornado moved through Jefferson City at 11:45 p.m. Wednesday and remained on the ground for several minutes. Early indications are the maximum damage from the tornado was consistent with an EF3 rating, or 160 mph winds.

Marsh said the current weather pattern reminds him of a 2003 system that produced near-daily severe weather for two weeks. It started with a powerful May 4, 2003, tornado that struck Pierce City, Missouri, between Joplin and Table Rock Lake and continued on with weather that tingled storm chasers but caused worry with almost anyone else in the path.

“That’s the one I keep going back to in my head,” Marsh said.

What’s happening now that’s keeping the Midwest locked in a cycle of severe weather?

The Midwest has all the ingredients for severe weather: moisture, instability, wind shear.

In particular, a wide mass of moisture is moving into the Midwest through the Gulf of Mexico. Then there’s unseasonably cold weather to the west, where the Rockies have been draped in late-May snow.

That’s good for rough weather in any circumstance.

But it’s being prolonged by a weather system in the Southeast United States that meteorologists refer to at times as a Bermuda high: a regular system of hot weather that will result in soaring temperatures in states like Georgia and Alabama.

The Bermuda high came in a bit earlier this year, so the conditions that are producing severe weather in the Midwest cannot move out.

“It’s kind of like a block,” Marsh said. “And so these two big main features” — the cold air from the west and moist air from the south — “are just sitting here parked and they’re not going to move over the next week.”

For people in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, that’s exacerbating rough flooding.

As of Tuesday, the National Weather Service reported that the Kansas City area had received more than 7 inches of rain in May, 2 inches above the historical average for the month.

“Flooding is already at record or near record levels,” Marsh said. “It’s only going to get worse.”

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