Friday is an important day to watch in the weather department as there is good model agreement that a storm system will be affecting the area during the day, driving a squall line into the area by afternoon. Gusty winds, hail, coastal flooding, heavy rain, and perhaps even a tornado will be possible. Let’s take a look at some of the issues we may encounter.
Winds & coastal flooding
Regardless of what thunderstorms do, winds will be turning downright strong on Friday as a surface cold front approaches the area. At the same time, some impressive upper-level winds will be overspreading the area. These winds look to mix down to the surface in the form of strong wind gusts over 40 MPH, even outside of thunderstorms. This will make driving over the bridges difficult, and could even bring a weak tree or two down if the gusts become even stronger.
These strong winds will also be coming in from the ocean. This combined with a full moon will contribute to some potential coastal flooding issues starting with Thursday evening’s high tide. High tides on Friday may also produce minor coastal flooding, though it appears right now that the heaviest rain will miss this timing by a few hours (thankfully!)
Squall line & severe thunderstorms
Updated 7:30am on 4/18 to depict the enhanced risk area, tweak wording to lower hail risk, and reflect overnight thinking from NWS Charleston and the Storm Prediction Center.
A risk for severe thunderstorms will be evident Friday into Friday evening as a squall line approaches the area during the day. Wind profiles are going to be quite impressive as a 50-60 knot low-level jet develops during the afternoon. It may not take much in the way of instability to pull these damaging wind gusts to the surface in showers and thunderstorms.
How widespread the severe weather threat gets ultimately does revolve around the question of how much instability develops during the day. An earlier squall line passage generally will tap the instability early on, limiting the severe threat. If the squall line arrives after sunset, some stabilization may occur, also limiting the severe threat. Right now, the most likely timing is in the early afternoon to evening hours (I’d call it 2-5 PM, but don’t hold me to that exact number just yet). This should give the atmosphere enough time to charge up to allow the squall line to maintain itself well to the coast. If this can happen, thunderstorms within the line can tap into some incredibly strong winds aloft (shown earlier) and bring those down to the surface as damaging wind gusts.
There is, as always, the issue of the cooler coastal waters. Despite the fact that they are slowly warming, sampling upper-air profiles of the environment directly offshore suggests that there will be some at least slightly more stable air coming ashore with the ridiculously gusty southerly flow. If this comes through for us again, then at a minimum we may see the storms become a little more elevated, reducing (but not eliminating) the damaging wind threat as they approach the Charleston area. However, the dynamics aloft are such that this may not matter so much.
Tornadoes won’t be the main threat for our neck of the woods, but they will still be a possibility as they often can spin up (and spin down) quickly on the leading edge of squall lines. If the line moves a little more slowly, a couple discrete thunderstorms could possibly get going ahead of the line, increasing the tornado threat. This doesn’t appear to be a likely scenario for Charleston right now, though; it is more likely to occur in northeast South Carolina and eastern North Carolina.
Some hail will be possible with these storms as well, but it right now does not appear that this will pose a considerable threat.
Bottom line on severe weather
- Straight-line winds are the most likely severe weather hazard on Friday. There could be scattered to numerous episodes of downed trees and power lines.
- Some hail is possible, but this is not the main threat.
- A tornado or two will be possible along the leading edge of the squall line. These “QLCS tornadoes” have quick lifetimes, and are exceedingly difficult to warn for.
- Not everybody will see a severe storm, but prepare as if you will see one. There are still mitigating factors at play which could limit the threat, but the risk for damaging wind gusts across the area is increasing.
- Severe weather threat should end by 8-9 PM.
What to do between now and Friday
Here are a few good things to do between now and Friday:
- Bring in loose items from outside by Thursday night. We’ll start to see winds come up then, and as mentioned earlier, they will be gusty even outside of thunderstorms. Reduce the risk of loose items blowing around by bringing them in through Saturday.
- Make sure you have reliable ways to get weather watches and warnings. NOAA Weather Radio is typically the best way to do this. Smartphone apps from local television stations will also do a nice job of pinpointing your location and pushing you only relevant weather alerts. For tornado warnings, Wireless Emergency Alerts are literally a lifesaver — turn those on if you have previously disabled them. Social media is not good as a sole source of weather alerts — consider social media as a supplement to a well-balanced weather awareness diet, but not as a full meal. Use social media to help get context about the weather situation and to send in reports when it is safe.
- Know your severe weather safe place. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s good to know where to go before storms arrive. Review this information with your family ahead of the event. Remember, in a severe thunderstorm, you’ll want sturdy shelter in an interior room or closet away from windows on the lowest floor. If you are in a mobile home, take Thursday to make arrangements to be in a site-built structure ahead of threatening weather — unfortunately, mobile homes can be dangerous places to be during straight-line wind or tornado events.
- Stay tuned to forecast updates. As new and higher-resolution model data comes in, confidence will (hopefully!) improve on the timing and intensity of any thunderstorms that will approach the area. Be sure to listen for the latest information as this forecast can and will undergo refinement leading up to the event.
I’m targeting sometime during lunchtime on Thursday with an update on the severe threat as more data and updated outlooks come in from the Storm Prediction Center. Stay tuned…
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