FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Severe thunderstorms, capable of producing intense damaging wind gusts and large hail, are possible tonight into early Sunday morning across portions of Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley. Locally heavy rainfall and a non-zero threat for tornadoes will also exist with the strongest storms.
Saturday Night’s Setup
A highly complex setup for severe weather will exist late Saturday Night here in our area. The main piece of energy located near the Rocky Mountains will surge east, firing off showers and thunderstorms from southern Kansas to central Oklahoma. This piece of energy will also interact with a shortwave originating from the Baja region of Mexico, which will allow the initial storms to rapidly intensify as they move east Saturday afternoon. These storms will quickly form into a line, with the potential to develop into a derecho as instability increases across Oklahoma. Fueled by a strong low-level jet and rich moisture, the thunderstorm complex is expected to remain intense even as the sun goes down late Saturday.
Severe Weather Risks
Despite the timing of this system, much of Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley has the potential to see high-end severe weather late Saturday night into early Sunday morning. The latest Day 1 Convective Outlook features an Enhanced Risk (Level 3 out of 5) of severe weather along the I-49 corridor, stretching west into eastern Oklahoma. This includes areas like Fayetteville, Bentonville/Rogers and Fort Smith. These locations will have the highest chance to see severe weather late Saturday night. The rest of the KNWA/FOX 24 coverage area is under a Slight Risk (Level 2 out of 5) of severe weather, where storms could be on a weakening trend as they quickly progress to the east early Sunday morning. Regardless of risk, all of our area will likely see frequent lightning and locally heavy rainfall as we move throughout the event.
The main risk with these thunderstorms will be intense damaging wind gusts that could exceed 80 MPH, especially in far western portions of our weather coverage area. Damaging winds of this magnitude can pose a significant threat to life and property and can be just as strong as tornadoes if the complex of storms is particularly intense. Locations that are in the hashed black outline will have the highest threat to see a derecho, though the I-49 corridor will also have that potential if the line of storms can maintain its strength.
Additionally, large hail up to the size of golf balls will be possible over the entire KNWA/FOX 24 coverage area. While the most significant hail risk will be with the initial thunderstorms that develop off to our west, hail stones that approach 2″ in diameter can cause substantial damage to vehicles and homes.
While the overall tornado threat looks low in Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley, the strength and magnitude of this system could cause spin-ups as the storms move in Saturday night. The additional piece of energy located to the south of the main storm complex could also locally enhance the tornado threat in our area, so a tornado or two can not be ruled out.
The main time frame for significant severe weather in Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley looks to be from 11 P.M. Saturday Night – 6 A.M. Sunday Morning. The complex of storms that will impact our area will develop late Saturday afternoon into the evening across western Oklahoma and Kansas, with additional development possible in northern Texas. These storms could interact with each other as they move east, which may impact the severe weather potential here in our area. The storms in western OK will rapidly become severe, and quickly push off to the east after sunset. The leading edge of the line should arrive in eastern Oklahoma by midnight, and push through the I-49 corridor as we go throughout the overnight hours Saturday. Depending on how long these storms can maintain their strength, severe weather potential could continue in far eastern portions of our weather coverage area as the sun rises on Sunday. Additional clusters of storms on the back edge of the system may produce small hail and gusty winds through lunchtime Sunday, but the majority of the severe weather potential is expected to push off to the east after the initial line moves through. Locally heavy rainfall and isolated flooding will be possible with the strongest storms.
Preparing For Severe Weather
Despite the overall tornado risk being low, intense damaging wind gusts can cause just as many impacts. It is crucial to have multiple ways to receive warnings in case severe weather strikes, especially with this event expected to take place late tonight. You can download the Your Weather Authority App by searching for it on the Google Play or Apple App Store, or by scanning the QR code provided below. Having a weather radio can also be a great resource to wake you up in the event that severe weather strikes. Follow our Weather Authority Team on social media below for the latest updates as more information becomes available, and keep an eye on the latest watches and warnings from your local National Weather Service office. Stay safe and have a wonderful Father’s Day everyone!
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