May 20, 2019 (UPI) — The central United States is once again on heightened alert as severe storms, which could produce life-threatening impacts such as long-track tornadoes and flash flooding, ignite across the region through Monday night.
The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has issued a high risk for portions of Oklahoma and Texas, the first time a high risk warning has issued by the agency since May 2017. This is the highest tornado risk since April 14, 2012.
A high-risk area indicates that an intense outbreak of severe storms is expected.
The area that is at the highest risk to see severe thunderstorms will extend from western Texas to southwestern Kansas eastward through Kansas, into eastern Oklahoma and north-central Texas, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.
Cities under the highest risk for tornadic activity today include: Amarillo, Lubbock and Wichita Falls, Texas; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla.; and Wichita, Kan.
Already, storms on Monday have produced up to golf ball-sized hail and strong wind gusts across the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma.
According to AccuWeather forecasters, straight-line wind gusts, in lieu of a tornado, can reach an AccuWeather Local StormMax of 90 mph, which will knock down trees and cut off power in some communities.
Monday’s severe weather danger comes on the heels of a severe weather outbreak that struck the region late last week through the weekend. At least 50 tornado reports came in across the central and southern Plains. The threat will not end Monday, with many areas at risk again Tuesday.
Days after surviving a close encounter with a tornado in Nebraska, AccuWeather Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer will be in the field chasing the storms and providing live updates for the AccuWeather Network.
Timmer said Monday’s threat is one of the “more prolific severe weather setups we have seen in several years.” Residents in the high-risk area should have a severe weather safety plan in place, he added.
In advance of the storms, schools have been closed in parts of Oklahoma, including the Oklahoma City metro area. Tinker Air Force Base said it was evacuating aircraft but the base’s operating status remains open.
1:35 p.m. CDT Monday:
A new tornado watch has been issued across central Oklahoma and parts of northern Texas. This is a particularly dangerous situation and includes Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Ardmore, and Elk City, Oklahoma, and Wichita Falls and Seymour, Texas.
“This is only the second watch in SPC history where every category of watch probabilities ([tornado], wind, hail) are at greater than 95 percent. The only other watch like this was issued for Alabama on 27 April 2011,” SPC said on Twitter.
12:35 p.m. CDT Monday:
The City of Moore, Okla., which has been struck by multiple powerful tornadoes in its history, has said that due to the severe weather forecast for central Oklahoma, buildings and city operations will be ceasing at 1 p.m. local time.
“This includes City Hall, Public Works, Parks & Recreation (The Station and the Brand Senior Center). Thank you and please be weather aware through today, tonight, and into tomorrow,” officials said in a statement.
May 20 is the six-year anniversary of the EF5 tornado that leveled Moore.
The first tornado watch of the day has been issued for part of the Texas Panhandle. A tornado watch means that conditions will become favorable for tornadoes to develop in the coming hours.
This is a particularly dangerous situation. Intense tornadoes, grapefruit-sized hail and winds over 70 mph are likely with storms that develop in this area.