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Severe storms brewing for weekend truckers in heartland

Strong tornadoes possible in central Plains

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Updated 11:30 a.m. ET, Apr. 29, 2022.

Truckers may hit multiple rounds of severe weather in the nation’s heartland this weekend, with more possible next week.

At least two low-pressure systems with connected cold fronts will move through the Plains and Midwest over the next few days, with a third system developing Monday. There will be enough energy, moisture and warmth to produce severe thunderstorms in some areas, as well as tornadoes, large hail and damaging straight-line winds.


The highest threat for severe storms this weekend will be Friday afternoon into Friday night. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the worst case, Friday ranks as a 3 (enhanced risk) for most of the potential impact zone, which stretches across the central and southern Plains. Parts of southeastern Nebraska, including Lincoln, as well as northern Kansas are under a level 4 (moderate risk).

This is when and where the atmosphere will be extremely dynamic and primed for intense conditions. Drivers will have to be on their toes from northeastern Texas to Nebraska, including Wichita Falls, Texas; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Oklahoma; Wichita and Topeka, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; and Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska.

These places, as well as spots in between, could see large hail — golf ball size or bigger — as well as several tornadoes, with a few reaching EF2 strength or higher on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

Some tornadoes may also be long-track, meaning they could stay on the ground for extended periods. Most tornadoes last less than 10 minutes, according to the Storm Prediction Center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the average path length is about 3.5 miles. There’s no hard definition of a long-track tornado, but think of it as one that stays on the ground for 15 to 20 miles or more.


Saturday’s overall risk level for severe storms drops to a 2 and shifts eastward. Scattered areas of large hail (at least quarter size) and wind gusts of up to 60 mph will impact places from Chicago and Milwaukee to the Missouri Bootheel and northeastern Arkansas. This also includes Champaign, Illinois; Indianapolis and Evansville, Indiana; and Paducah, Kentucky. Any tornadoes that pop up will be fewer in numbers than Friday.


A new system will develop in the Southwest, with a level 2 risk of severe storms mainly in northern Texas and western Oklahoma. Similar to Saturday’s situation, damaging winds and large hail will be scattered as opposed to numerous, and tornadoes will be isolated.

Looking Ahead

More thunderstorms, some possibly severe, could come back to the heartland next week.

Tornadoes of any magnitude can develop quickly and move at speeds of up to 60 mph. Despite advancements in forecasting, lead times of just 10 to 20 minutes are common for seeking safety once the NWS issues a tornado warning, and truckers don’t want to cross paths with these storms.

Their best defense is using a reliable weather app on mobile devices. If the app is set to GPS or location mode, drivers will receive local tornado and other severe weather alerts no matter where they happen to be along their routes, as long as cell reception isn’t disrupted. Portable NOAA Weather Radios are also available at many electronic stores and large retail stores.

Major lanes of concern

  • Interstate 20 in Texas from Pecos to Abilene.
  • Interstate 29 from Omaha to Kansas City.
  • Interstate 35 from Ardmore, Oklahoma, to Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Interstate 40 from Oklahoma City to Memphis, Tennessee.
  • Interstate 44 from Oklahoma City to St. Louis.
  • Interstate 70 from Hays, Kansas, to Indianapolis.
  • Interstate 80 from North Platte, Nebraska, to Chicago.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.