This is probably one of the most impressive wind shear environments I have ever seen on the Southern Great Plains — that’s actually not an exaggeration. There are only a couple of days I can think of that rival it, and I suspect this day will be a lot like those.
A broken band of storms should form 3-4 p.m. today in the Texas Panhandle and quickly grow into a line. Along that line, damaging wind gusts (perhaps widespread reports of 80 mph or more) along with a few tornadoes will be a threat. But…there are some caveats.
Let’s dive in.
What else is there to say about the strength of this storm system actually interacting with some unstable air? The winds in the atmosphere are just incredibly high end with this system.
Let me be clear: the atmosphere looks really insane everywhere except at the surface. If something is going to hold the potential back today the cold surface temps and lower moisture quality are definitely the flies in the ointment. The sounding above is from one of the more realistic models out there this morning in terms of what the trends are at the surface. That model shows a pronounced near-surface stable layer.
- Models have had a bias of warm/moist this morning which is resulting in the reliable HREF also having a warm/moist bias this morning.
- Thermodynamics are very questionable, so even a couple/few degrees cooler on dews or temperature may make the near-surface stable layer too deep even for this wind shear.
- There will be a narrow zone of weak surface instability to the west near the dryline, but moisture should be on the low-end, even for the Panhandles.
- Overall this is the ultimate example of a low instability/high shear storm setup. However, it is also perhaps one of the only times I’ve seen high tornado probabilities in the same place nearly every model is forecasting such a pronounced near-surface stable layer. So this feels like new territory even still.
Extreme winds = Extreme Motions
We’ve already gone over the numbers on how intense the wind shear is. But when you have intense winds like this, storms are going to move much faster. In today’s case, that means individual cells will be moving at highway speeds (60 mph+). I would not be surprised to see warnings for 80mph storm motions today.
Typically we talk about crowded storm modes as a big detriment to tornado formation — there is always one exception to this and that’s when you get a QLCS in an extreme shear environment. These types of lines can have strong and quick forming circulations on the front side of the line.
- For the science nerds out there, science is showing an increasing frequency of QLCS tornado events with time.
- The magnitude of the tornado threat today is going to depend on the depth of the near surface stable layer. Some models make it thick enough that I honestly have a hard time seeing tornadoes happening — some are right at doable for storms.
The Bottom Line
Very fast storm motions within a linear complex is going to make tonight an absolute terror to warn on. There is a chance that the poor thermodynamics save our bacon, making it hard to mix down extremely damaging winds or spin up tornadoes. The QLCS spin ups can happen all in one radar scan, meaning tornado warnings may come after a tornado has already formed and lifted. That’s the challenging nature of these. But, until we see any evidence of the poor thermodynamics limiting the threat, you probably need to prepare and plan to take shelter as the line passes you. From a storm chasing perspective, this is a pretty low-end setup if your goal is good imagery.
And hey, with the storm motions being so fast, that will probably only be for a few minutes. If nothing else, call it a good test run of your tornado safety plan.