Strong to locally severe thunderstorms will stretch from portions of Illinois, Missouri and Kansas to parts of Louisiana and Texas on Thursday.
The greatest risk from the storms will be heavy rain and wind gusts to 60 mph. The most likely time for violent weather in the region is during the afternoon and evening hours on Thursday.
Wind from the storms can be strong enough at the local level to down trees and power lines, while downpours can blind motorists and cause flash flooding. A few of the storms can also bring large hail. While a major outbreak of severe weather is not expected, a small number of the storms with this event could produce a tornado.
At the very least, downpours from the storms will slow travel for a time along the I-20, I-30, I-40 and I-70 corridors.
Cities that have the potential for disruptions and severe weather on Thursday include Quincy, Ill.; St. Louis and Joplin, Mo.; Little Rock and Fort Smith, Ark.; Pittsburg, Kan.; Shreveport, La.; and Longview, Texas.
There is a chance the storms ignite a bit farther west and impact the Dallas, Kansas City, Mo., and Tulsa, Okla., metro areas. A few strong storms may also fire farther south near Lake Charles, La., and Houston.
Rain showers may precede and occur in lieu of the thunderstorm threat on Thursday. Ahead of the showers and thunderstorms, gusty winds will raise the brush fire potential over parts of the central and southern Plains into Wednesday night.
Strong to locally severe thunderstorms may extend farther east on Friday, perhaps reaching portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.
The severe weather season has gotten off to a sluggish start this year, due to the prevalence of cold air in the Central and Eastern states. The number of tornadoes so far this year is well below the 2005-13 average. Preliminary tornado reports for the year were less than 50 as of March 25, 2014, compared to a 10-year average-to-date of approximately 150 tornadoes. However, even in a year with a low count of tornado incidents there is the potential for widespread damage in some communities and a few major outbreaks.
A storm system is forecast to track to the east over the central Plains. Warm, moist air is forecast to surge over this region on southerly winds ahead of a push of dry, cooler air.
Thunderstorms often fire up where the air changes characteristics from dry and cool to warm and moist and vice versa. Extra fuel for the storms can be added when there is a strong flow of warm, moist air near the surface as well as a strong flow of dry, cool air overhead.