Tornado outbreak predicted across southern, central Plains

A tornado outbreak is likely across the southern and central Plains today, said Storm Center 7 meteorologist Erica Collura.

The greatest threat for severe weather spans from Salina, Kan., to Oklahoma City in the afternoon through the evening.

“A strong low-pressure system will bring the likelihood of severe weather from hail the size of baseballs, winds of 70 miles per hour and strong tornadoes,” she said.

The Storm Prediction Center at the National Weather Service, the agency that issues watches and severe weather outlooks, declared a high risk for severe weather for parts of Oklahoma and Kansas today. This is only the second time ever that a high risk alert has been issued more than 24 hours ahead of a weather event, said Storm Center 7 Chief Meteorologist Jamie Simpson. The only other time was in April 2006, when nearly 100 tornadoes were reported the following day.

Today’s weather event is expected to have an impact similar to the tornadoes that touched down last month in Kentucky and Indiana.

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One big difference, Simpson said, is that with the exception of Oklahoma City and Wichita, the weather event is expected to happen in a relatively low population area. Some tornadoes may hit after the sun sets, he said.

The Miami Valley won’t see any severe weather this weekend, although some showers and thunderstorms are possible today as a warm front moves in. Highs will be in the low to mid-70s throughout the weekend. On Monday, a cold front will move into the area, bringing showers and thunderstorms with it, Collura said.

The strongly worded message came after the National Weather Service announced last month that it would start using terms like “mass devastation,” “unsurvivable” and “catastrophic” in warnings in an effort to get more people to take heed. It said it would test the new warnings in Kansas and Missouri before deciding whether to expand them to other parts of the country.

Friday’s warning, despite the dire language, was not part of that effort but just the most accurate way to describe what was expected, a weather service spokeswoman said.

It’s possible to issue earlier warnings because improvements in storm modeling and technology are letting forecasters predict storms earlier and with greater confidence, said Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service. In the past, people often have had only minutes of warning when a siren went off.

“We’re quite sure tomorrow will be a very busy and dangerous day in terms of large swaths of central and southern Plains,” Vaccaro said on Friday. “The ingredients are coming together.”

Medical officials in Oklahoma warned residents not to seek shelter at hospitals or other public buildings, but rather to stay inside their homes in a basement or interior closet.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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