Why Forecasting Can be Such a Challenge

One of my primary goals when I wrote Warnings was to help explain the process that meteorologists undergo when they try to make forecasts of extreme weather. This afternoon, I have the opportunity to explain one of the challenges we face when we forecast thunderstorms.

Below is the radar showing the thunderstorms moving southeast into Kansas City at 2:04pm. Ahead of the line of storms is a type of front known as a “fine line” (arrows) that separates the rain-cooled air from the thunderstorms from the extreme heat to the south.

A few minutes ago, at 4:18pm, the fine line has dropped into southern Kansas, separating

The fine line, which didn’t exist 12 hours ago, is farther south than we would have expected even at noon. Temperatures are in the 80′s over northeast Kansas with northeast winds and above 100° just ahead of the front with south winds.

So, what are the chances of thunderstorms in southern Kansas as a result of the front? The converging winds along the fine line are causing the clouds to built upward, but the clouds (note they are relatively flat on top) are fight a strong mid-atmospheric temperature inversion.

A meteorologist has to weigh all of this, and more, before making a forecast.  So, what is my forecast for Wichita-Sedgwick County?  I believe we will see thunderstorms sometime 7pm or after.

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