Tornadoes, extreme wind and hail storms. We get it all in the D.C. area and the worst of the severe weather season is about to begin. Meteorologists at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., are watching conditions in our backyard.
"There is this potential for a local maximum in organized thunderstorms because of the instability that can be generated there and because of the potential for smaller scale low pressure systems," said Greg Carbin, Warning Coordination Meteorologist NWS/NCEP Storm Prediction Center.
Carbin is working to improve those predictions. Last year the tornado count was near a record low, but wind events like the derecho were high. Today, they are researching how this chilly spring might impact severe storm development in 2013.
"Below normal temperatures in May appear to correspond with above normal tornado activity in the U.S.," noted Carbin.
ABC7 happened to be at the Storm Prediction Center on a day when severe weather was possible in the D.C. area. In fact, meteorologists issued a tornado watch and two tornadoes ultimately formed that day. One formed in Fredericksburg, Va., the other in Largo, Md. There was damage, but no one was hurt.
While D.C. has not traditionally seen a lot of tornadoes, scientists say tornado alley is growing.
"If you look at maps of tornado frequency, you see a small increase in tornado potential from the Carolinas up through the Delmarva," said Carbin. "It's almost a small corridor of greater severe weather that exists to the east of the Appalachian Mountains."
What does that mean for us this summer? Longer range models are predicting at least a cool start to May, so we could see an uptick in storms in the weeks ahead. But even the best tornado forecasters in the country, like the ones in Oklahoma, can reliably predict conditions ripe for tornadoes six days in advance at best.