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Tornado-producing storms threaten New York City and DC

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By Jennifer Gray, CNN meteorologist

By this evening, damaging winds, large hail and even tornadoes will tear through the country’s most densely populated region and could raise havoc with the evening commute.

One forecaster from the Washington, DC National Weather Service (NWS) office said on the phone this morning “As far as the coverage of severe weather, today could be the most widespread this season so far.”

More than 100 million people will be in the bull’s-eye today, as a cold front sweeps through areas including New York City, Washington DC and Philadelphia, just to name a few.

The severe threat has us a little concerned today, to be honest. It’s not unheard of to have tornado potential in these areas, but they are much rarer than we see in the Southeast and the Plains.

Just last year, several tornadoes hit around the DC area, and less than two months ago, tornado warnings were prompted in the nation’s capital. You may remember the viral video of the DC meteorologist who warned his family on live television when a tornado was bearing down on them.

More than 28 million people are included in today’s area of greatest risk, which is a Level 3 out of 5 “enhanced” risk of severe weather. Philadelphia and Washington, DC are both included in today’s highest risk.

New York City, Raleigh and Norfolk are all included in a “slight” risk of severe weather, which is Level 2 out of 5.

“Damaging winds appear to be the primary threat, but large hail and a few tornadoes are possible,” said the NWS office in Baltimore/Washington, DC.

Storm timeline

The storms will occur in several rounds today. The first round will be discrete storms that develop ahead of the main line of storms early this afternoon, anytime between noon and 3 p.m. The pop-up cells can form alone and are not part of a larger line of storms.

“These storms are often the most dangerous and the most likely to produce tornadoes, because they can take advantage of the entire storm environment and energy around them,” said CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen. “Storms in a line are competing with other storms around them, which can take some of the energy and disrupt the winds that can cause a tornado.”

Most NWS offices noted the risk of discrete cells – storms that form on their own – in their forecast discussions this morning, including New York.

“Any discrete cells that get going could produce large hail or even an isolated tornado,” said the NWS office in New York City.

By midafternoon, the cold front will be advancing from the Appalachians and into the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, when the second round of severe weather will start moving in.

“These rounds will only be a couple hours apart, so the bottom line is that scattered to numerous severe storms will impact the area this afternoon into early this evening from west to east,” said the NWS office in Baltimore/DC.

The main line will reach:

  • Washington, DC by 2 p.m. ET
  • Philadelphia by 4 p.m. ET
  • New York City by 5 p.m. ET

The severe weather accompanying the cold front will primarily be a wind threat. “Damaging straight-line winds of 55-60+ mph are still the main threat,” said the NWS office in Philadelphia.

The cold front will be racing through the large cities during the height of the afternoon commute as well. “Anyone who plans on traveling or being outdoors today should pay extra attention to any watches and warnings, and be ready to seek shelter quickly,” said the NWS office in Baltimore/DC.

With storms moving quickly, there is only a slight risk of flash flooding, but with the nature of this event and the expected torrential downpours, be on the lookout for potential flash flooding.

“Rain rates will likely be intense meaning if any areas near or over the urban corridor get hit with multiple rounds this could lead to instances of flash flooding,” said the NWS office in Philadelphia.

As the front continues to push eastward, it will slowly weaken. The storms should be pushing offshore during the overnight hours.

Storms are also possible over the country’s largest wildfire. But they likely won’t bring any rain relief.

Wildfires showing no signs of slowing down

The Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire is now the largest fire in New Mexico state history and is showing no signs of slowing down.

As of Monday morning, the fire has burned 298,060 acres and 27% contained.

Red flag warnings are in place again today in the area, which means conditions could allow the fire to spread even more.

“Dry lightning with sudden and strong erratic wind shifts from any nearby storm” could lead to rapid spreading or shifting of the fire lines. Winds from storm outflows could gust as high as 60 mph, in addition to a Level 1 of 5 risk for damaging thunderstorm winds with a few of the storms. “Any new or ongoing fires will be very hard to control,” the warning said.

Fire weather watches are also in effect across western Texas, where the fire danger will make it into the Level 2 of 3, critical range by Tuesday afternoon.

The fire weather will only worsen as heat continues to build across the South this week.

More than 200 daily record high temperatures are forecast to be challenged over the next few days from the Southwest all the way to the East Coast by midweek.

Read more about the fires, heat and drought here.

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