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Cold winter, strong jet stream combine for an unusual tornado season

National Weather Service risk map
(Mike Smith)
National Weather Service risk map

This morning as the National Weather Service upgraded the tornado risk to "high" for the St. Louis area this afternoon, meteorologist and severe weather expert Mike Smith joined us for St. Louis on the Air. Smith called this the "worst tornado season" since the 1950's and cautioned that complacency about risk can be one of the deadliest factors during any storm. 

 Smith suggested that St. Louis residents prepare for today's storms by:

  • Putting vehicles in garages, when possible
  •  Moving outdoor furniture and fixtures indoors to minimize potential debris
  •  Keeping close tabs on family and friends, and keeping children home for the duration of the storm
  •  Maintaining fully charged batteries on all cell phones, NOAA weather radios, and flashlights

Smith explained the extreme patterns we're witnessing as a result of a convergence of a few factors:

  • A longer and colder than usual winter has left cold air lingering late into the season
  •  Contrasting temperatures in the atmosphere have created a stronger-than-normal jet stream
  • These factors along with "normal tornado alley" circumstances (warm air from the Gulf of Mexico meeting cool air from Canada and dry air off the Rockies) have combined to form a perfect storm.

The entire listening area remains under a tornado watch until 9:00 pm.  If you are in Missouri, you can track active tornado warnings at NOAA's website here.  If you're in Illinois, here.