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Tornado threat rising as storms approach South

Highest risk from Tennessee to Louisiana

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Truckers need to be on high alert across several Southern states as the threat for tornadoes increases.

Severe storms began Tuesday night in the Plains, stretching from Texas to Iowa. The National Weather Service received more than 30 hail and wind damage reports across the region but no tornado reports.

Related: Tornadoes across South may further strain flatbed capacity

As this system approaches the South on Wednesday, it will gain strength and momentum, driven by atmospheric instability. The combination of daytime heating and abundant moisture, as well as wind shear — change in wind direction and/or increasing wind speed with altitude — will create a favorable environment for severe storms and a significant tornado outbreak.

The overall target zone for severe weather Tuesday is from the Ohio Valley to the Tennessee Valley and lower Mississippi Valley. However, the Storm Prediction Center, part of the NWS, has the best chances for damaging straight-line winds and tornadoes from the mid-South to the Gulf Coast. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the worst-case scenario, these areas are under levels 3 and 4. This includes places like western Kentucky; Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee; Little Rock, Arkansas; Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana; all of Mississippi; as well as most of Alabama. This concentrated strike zone could see the most tornadoes, including potentially strong tornadoes of EF2 or higher.

Straight-line winds in some of these locations could exceed 75 mph, but large hail is unlikely. It should be noted that even before thunderstorms arrive, wind gusts could reach 40 to 60 mph, possibly 70-plus mph in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina.

The risk of severe storms and tornadoes will fade late Wednesday night into Thursday, with a level 2 risk Thursday from parts of the Florida Panhandle to the mid-Atlantic.

Drivers should be aware that these storms may also produce torrential rain and flash flooding, leading to potential road closures. Truckers should set the weather apps on their mobile devices to “GPS,” “location” or “follow me” mode. This way, they will get local severe weather alerts no matter where they are along their routes.

Major lanes of concern

• Interstate 10 from Lake Charles, Louisiana, to Jacksonville, Florida.
• Interstate 20 from Shreveport, Louisiana, to Augusta, Georgia.
• Interstate 40 from Little Rock to Knoxville, Tennessee.
• Interstate 64 from St. Louis to Louisville, Kentucky.
• Interstate 55 from St. Louis to New Orleans.
• Interstate 65 from Louisville to New Orleans.
• Interstate 75 from Lake City, Florida, to Knoxville.

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.