Great Plains Severe Weather and Tornadoes: May 20, 2019

A storm system moving into the Great Plains this past Monday resulted in an outbreak of severe weather, including flooding and some tornadoes, across portions of Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. Thankfully, none of the reported tornadoes did extensive damage or caused widespread injuries. This was thanks in part to the fact that the tornadic storms did not hit major metropolitan areas, but also largely due to excellent communication of risk and appropriate preparedness actions by the National Weather Service. Let’s take a closer look at how this event unfolded…

Courtesy: KWTV-KOTV.

The event was well anticipated by forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center. The image below shows the 7-day outlook from May 14. You can see that the area which was impacted by this event was highlighted even a week in advance.

Day 7 Severe Weather Outlook from 5/14/2019. Courtesy NOAA/SPC.

By Monday morning, it was clear that many necessary ingredients for a widespread outbreak of potentially violent tornadoes and flooding were coming into place.

Day 1 Severe Weather Outlook for 5/20/2019. Courtesy NOAA/SPC.

While we will focus on the actual forecast process and what those severe weather ‘ingredients’ are in a future blog post, today we want to focus on how clear and consistent communication by forecasters helped ensure that citizens in the at-risk areas were prepared.

In their Day 1 Outlook, the Storm Prediction Center highlighted the seriousness of the situation by outlining the area in a ‘High Risk’ of severe storms (click here for a review of what the severe weather categories mean). While this terminology was picked up on by some media outlets in a sensational manner, most meteorologists and media outlets explained correctly that this level of risk is saved for the days when long-lived, widespread severe weather is expected.

As the day unfolded, the Storm Prediction Center issued several Severe Thunderstorm Watches and Tornado Watches in the outlined area. Some of these Tornado Watches were so-called ‘PDS’, or Potentially Dangerous Situation, Watches. This enhanced wording is used to alert the public to the increased danger within the watch area.

Severe weather watches (light pink parallelograms) in effect on the afternoon of 5/20/2019. Courtesy NOAA/SPC.

Forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center even allowed a look into their office operations during the day, including a close-up of a hand-analyzed weather map. Even in this highly technological era of weather forecasting, the benefits of looking at a map and drawing an analysis by hand are still appreciated by forecasters.

As you may recall from a previous post we did on severe weather, while the larger scale hazardous weather watches in anticipation of severe weather are issued by the national Storm Prediction Center, the local National Weather Service offices are responsible for issuing warnings in real-time as severe weather occurs. Here you can see the National Weather Service office in Norman, OK took time to remind its Facebook viewers what the Watch and Warning statements mean, and appropriate actions to take for each:

Subsequent updates included reminders about what to do in a flash flood situation:

All told, there were several reported tornadoes, as well as wind and some large hail, reported across parts of Texas, Oklahoma, southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri yesterday. Although there was some damage which resulted, there were no fatalities and no major injuries reported.

Storm reports from 5/20/2019. Courtesy NOAA/SPC.

Some rivers are still flooding (shown in light green, on the left below) in central and western Oklahoma today, and the threat for severe weather has moved northeast with the storm system. Stay alert if you live in the outlooked area shown and make sure you have access to current watches and warnings.

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