Tornadoes are possible in any of the severe thunderstorms that blow across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast this afternoon, with the greatest risk existing across a stretch of land from Virginia to Vermont. Any of the storms that pop-up this afternoon also carry the risk for damaging winds and large hail.

This is about the time of the year when we would expect to see tornadoes form in this region of the country—the beginning of June is the climatological peak of “tornado season” (such as it is) in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. History holds true another year as powerful storms fire up in the warm sector ahead of a cold front pushing into the region (thanks, Canada).

Muggy, unstable air flowing north across the eastern part of the country isn’t sitting too well with the aforementioned cold front, and the focusing, lift, instability, and favorable wind shear are coming together in the right manner for severe weather. A slight (two out of five) risk for severe weather exists across a huge swath of interior sections of the Northeast this afternoon, stretching from Vermont down through Pennsylvania and continuing across the Appalachians into parts of the Mid-South.

In addition to the overall risk for damaging winds (60+ MPH) and large hail (quarter-size or larger), the tornado risk is concerning, especially in a region of the country where people aren’t always tuned-in to the risk for severe weather. A 5% risk for tornadoes exists from central Maryland through extreme southern New York; a 5% risk doesn’t sound too high, but the climatological risk for tornadoes on June 8 in this region is about 0.20%, so today’s risk is 25 times higher than normal.

The I-95 corridor from Washington D.C. through New York City is on the far eastern extent of the severe weather threat today, but given the linear nature of the storms, it wouldn’t be too shocking if someone somewhere in the Megalopolis saw a snail-drowning torrent this evening. The threat for severe weather isn’t exactly zero in the big cities, but you probably won’t see it as bad as your interior counterparts this afternoon.

The risk for significant tornadoes (ultimately rated EF-2 or stronger) is relatively low, but even the weakest tornado is dangerous if you’re in its path. If your location goes under a tornado warning, make sure to act quickly and get to a basement or an interior room on the lowest level of your building—the goal is to put as many walls between you and the outside as possible to protect you from flying debris.

Most smartphones are equipped with wireless emergency alert capabilities, which is basically the Emergency Alert System for your phone. When connected to the towers (in other words, not in airplane mode), a loud, screeching tone will sound along with a message telling you your location is under a tornado warning. You can also receive warnings by listening to NOAA Weather Radio, checking your local National Weather Service office’s website, and by listening to local news or radio.

Remember not to try to look for the tornado before taking action—unlike on the Plains, where visibility is rarely an issue, most tornadoes in this part of the world are obscured by heavy rain, trees, and buildings. You often don’t see the tornado until it’s on top of you and too late. If you’re like me and need to see things with your own eyes, check the radar and see if your location is in the warning polygon. If you’re not in the polygon, you’re more than likely not at immediate risk.

[Images: GREarth, author | Updated the watches map at 4:15 PM.]

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