Midweek storms could bring damaging winds & tornadoes to Panhandle, North Florida
A cold front is forecast to bring damaging winds and the risk of strong tornadoes Tuesday into Wednesday across the Panhandle.
Surface analysis Monday shows an organizing area of low pressure near the Four Corners region of the Southwestern U.S. Over the next 24 hours, this low pressure is forecast to become better organized, producing the risk of severe storms along the Texas Gulf Coast and heavy snow in the North Texas Panhandle. A warm front will approach the Florida Panhandle Tuesday night into Wednesday as the low pulls away from the High Plains and into the Lower Mississippi River Valley. This will introduce a warm and unstable environment and could result in strong and severe thunderstorms.
Forecast models indicate a line of strong and severe thunderstorms will develop ahead of the cold front. This line is expected to enter the Panhandle during the overnight hours Tuesday, with the severe threat likely between Pensacola and Panama City arriving during the pre-dawn hours Wednesday. During this time, the risk of severe weather will be highest. By daybreak Wednesday, models suggest a broken line of strong and severe storms will be possible from Panama City to Tallahassee. The line will gradually push south and east through Wednesday afternoon, arriving to Jacksonville and Tampa by the late afternoon and evening hours. Enough instability is expected ahead of the cold front to prompt at least an isolated strong and severe storm threat Wednesday across North Florida and portions of the Panhandle.
The Storm Prediction Center has the far western Panhandle under an "enhanced" risk for severe weather overnight Tuesday into early Wednesday. This designation is a 3 on a severe weather scale of 1-to-5 and means that severe storms will be capable of producing a few stronger tornadoes and damaging winds. As the cold core of the low pressure system moves by Tuesday night into Wednesday, there will also be the potential for hail in some of the strongest cells. By Wednesday afternoon, the severe weather risk will shift toward the Big Bend and North Florida as a "marginal" risk, which is a 1 on a severe weather scale of 1-to-5. While this risk is less than what the western Panhandle will experience Tuesday night, it is still worth noting as the atmosphere will support the risk of strong winds and an isolated tornado.
Residents are encouraged to closely monitor the forecast, as there will likely be watches and warnings issued Tuesday into Wednesday. If a watch is issued, it means that the ingredients for severe weather or tornadoes are present in the atmosphere. Watches are typically issued before the weather turns severe and tend to cover a fairly large geographic area for several hours. A warning on the other hand is issued when severe weather is ongoing for a specific location and is typically on a smaller geographic scale, usually only covering a few counties at a time. As a reminder, the severe weather season in the Sunshine State typically does persist through the winter months. This is especially true along the Gulf Coast where powerful cold fronts can sometimes spark stronger storms.
On top of the risk of strong and severe storms, there is also the potential for localized flash flooding. This risk is highest across the Panhandle and North Florida Wednesday, as storms are forecast to be slow-moving and could train over the same locations. Rainfall totals in the Tallahassee area are forecast to be between 1 to 1.5 inches, which could fall in a short window of time due to the convective nature of storms.
Northwesterly winds behind the cold front will result in plunging temperatures through late week. Highs Thursday and Friday fall into the 50s across the Panhandle, with low temperatures falling into the 30s Wednesday night through Friday night. Frost and freeze alerts are going to be possible as the heart of the cooler air arrives behind the midweek cold frontal passage. The cooldown will likely be brief, as temperatures are expected to climb by the end of the weekend.