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Tornado watch issued for D.C. area until 11 p.m.

2 weeks ago 16



* Tornado watch in effect until 11 p.m. *

6:05 p.m. — Storm activity should increase over next couple hours

Except for a storm entering western Carroll County and a trailing cell exiting Frederick, it remains quiet. but there are some hints of some storm initiation in Loudoun and Fauquier counties.

Over the next one to two hours, storms may develop pretty quickly near and just west of the Interstate 95 corridor. A cold front moving into the area around that time may act as a trigger. It’s uncertain how widespread the storms will be and it’s possible parts of our western suburbs may be passed over while areas along and east of I-95 may see more of the activity, especially between around 7:30 and 9 p.m. or so.

It remains to be seen whether storms can develop quickly enough in our area to present a tornado threat. The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center posted an update noting the highest tornado chances may focus in southeast Virginia.

Still, it’s worth monitoring storm activity through the evening. We’ll have another update closer to 7 p.m.

5:05 p.m. — Intense storm nears Frederick; otherwise, it’s quiet

So far, storm coverage is less than anticipated. Radar shows only one cell, which is rather intense, between Frederick and Thurmont in Frederick County. It’s sweeping eastward at 20 mph and headed toward northeast Frederick and western Carroll counties. It could produce some wind gusts to 60 mph and small hail.

Otherwise, not much is happening.

However, models project some storm initiation just west of the Beltway after 6 p.m. We’ll post another update around that time with the latest.

4:35 p.m. — Here’s an approximate storm timeline

As a severe storm approaches Frederick, Md., (warning in effect until 5:15 p.m. for western and central Frederick County) from the west, here’s an approximate timeline as to when storms may arrive in different locations across the area:

  • 5 to 6 p.m. — Frederick (Md.) and Leesburg (closer to 6 p.m.)
  • 6 to 7 p.m. — Sterling, Ashburn, Interstate 270 corridor, Gainesville, Warrenton
  • 7 to 8 p.m. — Columbia, Laurel, Beltway area (including I-95 and District), Waldorf, Fredericksburg
  • 8 to 9 p.m. — Baltimore, counties adjacent to Chesapeake Bay, Southern Maryland

Note that all of the above locations may not be hit by storms. Model simulations currently don’t agree as to whether storms will become more widespread or hit-or-miss. The coverage of storms on radar currently better supports the latter.

Also, storms may be a bit slower to develop and take longer to pass through the region so we’ve expanded the window in which we think storms are most probable until 9 p.m.

We’ll post another update a little after 5 p.m.

4 p.m. — Tornado watch issued until 11 p.m.; storms most probable between 5 and 8 p.m.

As scattered thunderstorms begin to form near Interstate 81, the Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for most of the Washington area until 11 p.m. A tornado watch means ingredients are in place for the possibility of a few tornadoes in the region and you should stay weather-aware. It is not a guarantee of a tornado in your particular location. You should stay alert and have a plan to shelter if a warning is issued. The safest place to be during a tornado warning is an interior room of a strong building, away from windows, and preferably underground.

Based on the current development of storms to our west as well as model simulations, it seems they are most probable in the region between 5 and 8 p.m., possibly moving through as a broken squall line from west to east.

Even if storms don’t produce tornadoes, they could deliver other hazards.

Damaging winds are expected to be the most common risk, but some hail is possible,” the Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center wrote.

Storms will also produce heavy rain and dangerous lightning. Head inside if you hear thunder.

The tornado watch covers not only the Washington region but also much of the area from northeast Maryland, including Baltimore, to eastern North Carolina, including Richmond and Virginia Beach.

We will post updates in this report as storms approach and pass through. Our next update will be around 4:30 p.m.

Original report from late morning

The Memorial Day weekend could end with a bang as a strong cold front sweeps scattered thunderstorms through the Washington region this afternoon and evening.

Some storms could bring damaging winds, hail and the outside possibility of a tornado. Brief heavy rain and dangerous lightning are also likely.

Weather Service forecasters have placed the region in a Level 2 of 5 risk zone for severe weather.

Storms may tend to be hit-or-miss rather than the type that blasts the whole area. While some spots could see little to no rainfall, areas that experience the heaviest downpours could see up to 1 to 2 inches in an hour or two.

The main culprit is the same low-pressure area responsible for major severe weather outbreaks in the Plains and Midwest over the weekend. It’s dragging a cold front through the area that will collide with warm and humid air, inciting storms.

The main source of uncertainty for storm coverage and intensity is the cloud cover over the region, which may decrease the amount of heating. That could reduce fuel for storms somewhat.

Still, at least scattered strong to severe storms are a good bet into the evening.

  • Potential storm timing: Midafternoon through evening. Ending near or just after sunset.
  • Chance of rain: About 60 percent for any given location.
  • Storm duration: Half-hour to an hour, but more than one storm may pass.
  • Most likely effects: Heavy rain, dangerous lightning, isolated damaging wind gusts, a brief tornado or two.
  • Possible impacts: Multiple tornadoes, isolated large hail and spotty flash flooding.

The severe weather setup features a vigorous cold front approaching from the west and an atmospheric disturbance that will focus uplift of air across the DMV later this afternoon.

There will also be an attendant increase in wind shear, which is a change of speed and direction with height that helps shape powerful thunderstorms. Meanwhile, near the ground, winds from the south will continue to usher in warmth and moisture, providing storm fuel and making the air mass unstable.

One confounding factor is early-morning cloud cover, which is extensive and multilayered, due to the remnants of a storm complex to the west. Until clouds thin, the ground will not be heated as strongly, potentially delaying full destabilization.

Stronger heating is expected this afternoon, coincident with an increase in wind shear. Convective storms should percolate as temperatures rise and the front approaches, becoming more widespread by late afternoon.

Where these storms predominantly likely cluster and focus may vary. For instance, the NAM weather model favors spots nearer the bay and southern Maryland. Some of this activity is already ongoing in southeastern Virginia. Its cousin the HRRR weather model begins initiating storms farther west, including central Maryland and the District.

The storm mode is likely to be small clusters (multicells) and short bowing segments or arcs — a few rotating supercells are also possible. Torrential rain and lightning are likely with any activity. So is possibly strong to severe wind gusts called downbursts and hail to the size of quarters. Even a brief tornado or two could drop.

CWG will monitor the situation carefully through the afternoon and evening and provide updates in this article.

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