Storms could bring damaging winds, isolated tornadoes to Panhandle Friday
The same system that brought severe weather to Texas and Oklahoma Thursday will bring the potential for a few strong and severe storms to the Panhandle Friday.
A deepening area of low pressure over Lake Superior was observed on surface analysis Friday afternoon. Trailing that dynamic low pressure was an elongated cold front, stretching from the eastern Great Lakes toward the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Ahead of that frontal boundary, ample instability has allowed for a broken line of strong thunderstorms to develop. Across the Florida Panhandle, stout southerly winds are pulling in warm and moist air off of the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, dew points have climbed into the upper 60s with air temperatures in the upper 70s.
Models suggest the line of thunderstorms will arrive in the western Panhandle after noon Friday. Based on the latest information as of publishing, the line of stronger storms is forecast to move into the Pensacola area in time for the Friday evening commute. As the line propagates eastward, locations like Panama City and Tallahassee will see storms arrive Friday evening into early Saturday morning. The storm chances will continue through Saturday across much of the Panhandle, but it does appear that instability will lead to a decreased risk of severe weather as the line enters North Florida.
The Storm Prediction Center's Severe Thunderstorm Outlook for Friday suggests that the risk of severe thunderstorms will be highest west of Tallahassee. In this area, a "slight" risk of severe weather is in place covering Pensacola, Destin, and Panama City. This designation is a 2 on a severe weather scale of 1-to-5, and simply means that strong and severe storms will be scattered. East of Tallahassee, a "marginal" risk exists along the Big Bend and Nature Coast. This is a 1 on the severe weather scale of 1-to-5 and means that isolated severe storms are possible. Models are in agreement that severe thunderstorms will not likely be widespread or numerous, but the strongest storms will be capable of producing winds of up to 60 miles per hour. Lines of thunderstorms are also known for bringing a few quick spin-up tornadoes, and that risk will be present as this line presses through the Panhandle. Aside from the risk of severe weather, the slow-moving nature of storms will result in the risk of localized flash flooding, especially in the Panhandle and North Florida Friday into Saturday.
Since the risk of strong thunderstorms will move in while many are asleep, residents are encouraged to go to bed Friday night with multiple ways to get severe weather alerts. A weather radio is an excellent resource to have, but there are other ways to get weather alerts. Emergency alert system notifications can be sent directly to cell phones if location-tracking is enabled, which is especially useful during tornado warnings.
🌪️ A cold front may bring severe weather across the Panhandle tonight. Threats include damaging wind gusts, isolated tornadoes, lightning & heavy rain.— FL Division of Emergency Management (@FLSERT) March 17, 2023
⬇️ Residents in these areas should monitor weather alerts & be prepared to seek shelter if a tornado warning is issued. pic.twitter.com/oRpCOJvmLu
Over the next 24 to 36 hours, watches and warnings may be issued and it's important to know the difference. A watch means that atmospheric ingredients are in place to produce severe weather. Watches are typically issued several hours ahead of severe storms and cover a wide geographical area. Warnings are issued when severe weather is occurring and signal to residents that it's time to seek shelter. Warnings generally do not last more than an hour and cover a much smaller geographic area.
Following the risk of severe weather Friday, much cooler conditions will arrive in the Panhandle for the weekend. Highs will drop into the 50s and lower 60s with northwesterly winds. Several models do indicate the potential for scattered showers across the Panhandle through the weekend, especially on Saturday. As the cold front stalls across Central Florida into Sunday, rain chances in the Panhandle should diminish. Rainy conditions will continue across the Peninsula, with several inches of much-needed rainfall possible in areas of moderate to severe drought.