Tornado watches are up in the Florida panhandle ahead of severe storms
An approaching squall line Wednesday morning has resulted in the issuance of a Tornado Watch for several Panhandle counties.
A Tornado Watch is in effect for Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa Counties until 5 AM CST Wednesday. Residents in these counties are encouraged to monitor the overnight progression of the approaching squall line and have more than one way to receive severe weather alerts, especially as this squall line will move from Pensacola to Panama City while many are asleep.
High-resolution weather models indicate instability will continue to increase along the immediate Gulf Coast through the early morning hours of Wednesday. As fuel for thunderstorms increases, a line of storms will arrive in the far western Panhandle shortly after midnight, with most guidance suggesting the window of arrival to be between 1 and 3 AM in the Pensacola area.
The line will gradually progress east through the pre-dawn hours Wednesday, with storms arriving in Panama City between 4 and 6 AM Wednesday. Storms are forecast to continue feeding on an unseasonably moist environment through mid-morning Wednesday, resulting in little weakening as the squall line approaches Tallahassee between 7 and 9 AM.
The risk of severe weather will gradually evolve and push east through Wednesday afternoon. By the early evening hours, models indicate a broken and weakening line of thunderstorms stretching from Jacksonville to Gainesville to the Nature Coast. While storms are expected to exhibit an overall weakening trend, the risk of severe weather will still be present.
Surface observations Tuesday evening depict an advancing warm front draped nearly parallel to the Gulf Coast, bringing in unseasonably muggy and warm conditions from New Orleans to Panama City. Southeasterly winds are gusting in excess of 25 miles per hour at the surface, while winds aloft are whipping at over 90 miles per hour. The difference between upper-level and surface-level winds assists in getting the atmosphere to spin, resulting in an increased risk for strong and possibly long-track tornadoes.
Even in areas where tornado warnings are not issued, severe thunderstorm wind gusts could still reach up to 70 miles per hour. Cold and dry air in the upper levels will also support the risk for large hail, especially in the westernmost areas of the Florida Panhandle. By Wednesday afternoon, forecast instability is expected to taper off, but the severe risk for areas like Jacksonville and Gainesville will continue through the early evening.
A tornado watch means that the atmospheric ingredients to produce a tornado are present. Watches typically are issued for several hours and cover a wide geographical area. A tornado warning is issued only when there is an imminent threat of a tornado. Tornado warnings can be issued if a tornado is observed by a trained storm spotter or if the radar indicates rotation capable of producing a tornado. If a tornado warning is issued, residents are encouraged to seek shelter immediately in the lowest level and away from windows.
Following the risk of severe weather overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, northwesterly winds will usher in cool and dry air for the end of the week. Highs by Thursday and Friday will fall into the 50s across the Panhandle, with lows likely to fall near freezing through the start of the weekend.