May 9, 2024 - Climate

Dangerous storms headed toward Atlanta — again

Map of the U.S. shows preliminary eyewitness reports of tornadoes since April 1, 2024. The tornado reports are scattered through the Midwest, Great Plains and South, with large concentrations in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Data: Storm Prediction Center; Note: "Preliminary" reports are eyewitness storm reports issued shortly after an event before being verified. Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Atlanta is in the path of more potential severe weather with heavy winds — and possibly a derecho — scheduled to arrive overnight Thursday into Friday.

Why it matters: North Georgia is already weary after spending Thursday morning under a tornado watch, when a system that whipped up four tornadoes to Tennessee knocked out power to more than 25,000 Georgia residents as of midday. Counties in central Georgia were under a tornado warning at about 1pm, Fox 5 reports.

  • But it's not over: The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued another warning Thursday that a complex of thunderstorms is forecast to congeal over Texas and barrel eastward overnight, bringing the threat of "very large hail," damaging winds and possible tornadoes all the way to Georgia by Friday morning.

Threat level: Cities in the threat zone include Dallas-Ft. Worth and Arlington, Texas, as well as Atlanta.

  • The SPC specifically mentioned the possibility of a long-lasting complex of storms producing widespread wind damage along its path, known as a derecho.
Image of an X post from the NWS Storm Prediction Center showing a path of heavy storms from Texas to Georgia
NOAA SPC/via X

The big picture: Tornado watches were in effect for tens of millions of people from Dallas to Paducah to Nashville on Wednesday evening, as storms erupted from the same major system that plagued parts of the Plains, Midwest and Ohio Valley this week.

  • In Tennessee, Maury County officials confirmed one person died after a tornado struck near the city of Columbia and the Claiborne County mayor reported on Facebook that another fatality had occurred when a tree fell on a car.
  • In North Carolina, an emergency was declared for Gaston County, where one person was killed when a tree fell on a car.

Catch up quick: This spate of severe weather follows the second-most active April for tornadoes, and hits shortly after damaging twisters struck southern Michigan.

The intrigue: Scientists are actively studying how climate change is affecting tornadoes, with some emerging agreement around several points.

  • Climate change is affecting the atmospheric conditions that give rise to severe thunderstorms, in particular by increasing atmospheric instability.
  • As global air and ocean temperatures increase, the atmosphere can carry more water vapor, a key ingredient for severe storms.
  • At the same time, though, wind shear, which is vital for tornado formation, may be decreasing over time.

Go deeper for the national perspective.

Editor's note: This is a developing story and will be updated.

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