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Strong Storm System Approaching Gulf Coast

Florida Public Radio Emergency Network

Some potentially dangerous weather is on tap for the next couple of days, thanks to a strong storm system approaching from the Mid-South.

Consider this the kickoff to the spring storm season, says Ray Hawthorne with FPREN – the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.

“We have a couple of features: one is in the upper part of the atmosphere; a very strong trough of low pressure is moving out of Texas and it’s heading toward the Gulf Coast,” said Hawthorne. “Attached to that we have a strong cold front which is crossing from Texas into Louisiana and moving toward the east.”

From that, the air is being lifted and pumping up substantial moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. That, in turn, will bring showers and thunderstorms to Northwest Florida and south Alabama. Hawthorne says the storms will be coming in rounds, the first of which is expected later today.

“It will be more on the scattered side, at least this first round will be,” Hawthorne said. “So it will be hit-and-miss. But, there could be a couple of damaging wind gusts and maybe an isolated tornado or two, even with the scattered showers and thunderstorms that get going this afternoon. We may get breaks in between as we head through the nighttime hours tonight. So it will be off-and-on.”

Round two follows, with a line of storms riding the cold front.

“Probably just after drive time, and with the line will come the threat of some damaging winds,” said Hawthorne. “And when that finally gets through we have one more last wave that’s going to come in tomorrow afternoon with additional rainfall. We could be seeing several inches of rain before all is said and done by tomorrow night.”

The current forecast calls for anywhere between two to five inches of rain depending on location, along with sustained winds out of the south at 20-30 mph.

“In some of the thunderstorms themselves, we could be seeing winds as high as 60-70 mph with some of the stronger storms,” Hawthorne said. “Particularly tomorrow morning as that line sweeps from west to east across the Panhandle.”

‘Tis the season to be watching. This is the time of year where there’s an increase in severe-weather events.

“The reason for that is the sun angle is getting higher and higher; the air mass is gradually becoming warmer; and the winds high up in the atmosphere are still very strong,” said Hawthorne. “You need both of those things to cause severe weather; and that overlap typically tends to maximize generally during the months of March into April before the upper-level winds start to weaken in the summer months.”

The good news is, according to FPREN’s Ray Hawthorne, a more tranquil weather pattern will follow the strong front in time for the weekend.

“We are going to see a brief shot of cool air come in on Friday, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to last as we head into the weekend and early next week,” Hawthorn said. “It’ll be sunny and it looks like temperatures will start to warm up. So this is just a couple of stormy days, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Other cities in the path of the front include Panama City, Tallahassee, Gainesville and Jacksonville in north Florida, then Tampa, Orlando, Daytona Beach, and then down to Fort Lauderdale and Miami.