A Tornado Watch has been issued by the National Weather Service for Pensacola and surrounding areas until 4 pm.
Thunderstorms capable of producing damaging wind gusts up to 60 mph and a brief tornado are possible in the advised area, especially between the hours of 1 and 4 pm CST.
The powerful storm system that has prompted the Tornado Watch has already led to more than 200 reports of wind damage, and at least five tornadoes across the Southern Plains, Ozarks and Mid-South.
Latest forecast data continues to suggest the line of storms responsible for the damage might threaten portions of the Florida Panhandle Saturday afternoon and evening.
A few isolated thunderstorms could develop ahead of the main activity as early as 1 or 2 pm CST. These cells would pose the greatest risk of a brief tornado. The damaging wind risk is greatest when the squall line approaches, which is outlined with updated arrival times below.
The front is then expected to weaken overnight and the severe weather risk will diminish, leaving the rest of Florida largely unaffected on Sunday.
Forecast data continues to suggest a line of destructive thunderstorms will move through portions of the Florida Panhandle Saturday. Confidence is also increasing on when the strongest cells will arrive, which we’ve listed below...
Pensacola: 11 am to 3 pm
Panama City: 2 to 6 pm
Tallahassee: 7 to 11 pm
There are two primary hazards posed by this storm system. First, thunderstorms that develop ahead of the squall line could rotate and produce a tornado. Second, damaging wind gusts in excess of 60 mph are possible along and directly ahead of the leading edge of the squall line.
These hazards will be most likely in the Panhandle. By the time the front arrives to the Big Bend and Northern Florida early Sunday morning, it is expected to have weakened significantly, or dissipate entirely.
A line of strong thunderstorms capable of producing destructive winds or a tornado is expected to move through the Florida Panhandle Saturday.
In addition, a brief period of torrential rain and localized flooding will also be possible from the powerful storm system as it moves through.
Forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center in Normal, Oklahoma have highlighted the western half of the Florida Panhandle as having an “enhanced risk” of severe storms Saturday, which is a level three out of five on their scale. In her forecast notes issued early Thursday, Meteorologist Elizabeth Leitman said the primary hazard would be wind damage, but that tornadoes could not be ruled out. She communicated uncertainty in to how “pristine” the atmosphere would be ahead of the front for this to occur, and labeled the tornado threat as more “conditional”.
The weather map across the Southern Plains was rather quiet Thursday, although the ingredients were beginning to come together for a major storm. Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Tallahassee were beginning to identify the features on water vapor imagery Thursday.
Surface and upper air observations indicated a large pocket of lower pressure and colder air was rotating through the Intermountain West toward Texas. At the same time, southerly winds were sending unseasonably warm and humid air as far north as the lower Ohio River Valley. When the pocket of colder air aloft attempts to replace the increasingly moist and unstable air mass on Friday, a large of upward motion and lowering pressure is forecast to rapidly develop.
Atmospheric dynamics along a cold front associated with this system are likely to trigger numerous clusters of thunderstorms Friday afternoon across eastern Texas and Oklahoma. The storms are then expected to quickly organize into a squall line that races east through Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama Friday night. The leading edge of these cells will pose the greatest risk of significant wind damage or tornadoes when they arrive on Saturday.
A few thunderstorms are possible in the western sections of the Florida Panhandle as early as midday. If these were to develop, they would have the potential to quickly produce a tornado as they race northward on the heels of strong southerly winds. The main squall line, which represents the more widespread and significant risk of severe weather, is then likely to approach Pensacola by early afternoon, Panama City later in the afternoon, and Tallahassee by early evening.
The cold front is expected to weaken and slow down over sections of Northeast Florida Saturday night and early Sunday. The risk of severe weather in these areas is remarkably lower than for areas farther west, although a few stronger storms near cities like Lake City or Jacksonville can’t entirely be ruled out. There is no official risk areas highlighted by the Storm Prediction Center beyond Saturday at this time.
The risk of wind damage and possibly a tornado is increasing across portions of Florida Friday night. Multiple rounds of showers and thunderstorms are possible across the northern half of the state during the day, but the strongest activity is now expected to arrive after sunset.
A complex upper-level storm system is forecast to swing through the Southeast Friday, and clusters of strong thunderstorms are expected to develop ahead of it across several different areas of Florida in the afternoon, evening and overnight hours. Forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center, which is a division of the National Weather Service, have placed much of northern Florida under a “slight” (level 2 out of 5) risk for severe weather through 7 am Saturday. This was a categorical upgrade to the forecast issued for the same period of time Thursday.
The primary hazards with the strongest cells will be damaging wind gusts or a brief tornado. The highest chances of this occurring are across the eastern half of the panhandle this evening, then stretching into the northern half of the peninsula overnight. However, a few strong thunderstorms may also develop across portions of North Florida in the afternoon hours Friday.
Locally heavy rain will also be possible at times in the same areas affected by the stronger thunderstorm potential. Rainfall amounts through Saturday are likely to exceed an inch across a large area of the state north of I-4, with locally higher amounts of up to two inches possible closer to the Gulf Coast. Lesser amounts of rain are expected, primarily on Saturday morning, for areas of central and south Florida.
The storm system responsible for the unsettled late-week weather is expected to clear the state Saturday afternoon, leaving behind a drier and more stable air mass for the second half of the weekend. The more favorable weather for outdoor activities should continue into the early part of next week.