Severe storm threat upgraded for South Florida with hail and damaging winds possible

Update 1:20 p.m. The thunderstorms popping up in Palm Beach County this afternoon are sea breeze related and not part of the large thunderstorm system that is moving in from the Gulf of Mexico.

While there is less than a 2 percent chance of tornadoes with the larger system, the boundary where the sea breeze and mesocale convective system meet up may produce some rotation.

Please see special weather statement issued at 1:25 p.m.

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Previous story: The Storm Prediction Center upgraded parts of South Florida, including Palm Beach County, to the marginal threat level for severe weather  with chances of hail and damaging winds.

The marginal level is the lowest on a five-level scale, but means there are chances for isolated to severe thunderstorms with winds up to 50 mph. The tornado risk is low at below 2 percent.

Storms are expected to be strongest between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. along the coast. They could begin as early as 11 a.m. near Lake Okeechobee.

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While the west coast of Florida will start to get the storms this morning, the Atlantic coast will see them move in at the peak of the afternoon heating, which will help get rising air into the atmosphere to create the thunderstorms.

“You’re going to have the sea breeze lifting and the warm afternoon temperatures,” said Paul Walker, a meteorologist with the Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather. “All the parts of this are coming together just right to put southeast Florida right in the sweet spot.”

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The National Weather Service in Miami notes in its morning discussion that tornadoes and supercell thunderstorms are less likely because of low wind shear. Wind shear, which is winds moving at different directions and speeds with height, promotes air rotation, which can lead to tornadoes.

The storm mass heading toward Florida was over Mexico yesterday, where drier air kept it from forming. But once it hit the warm Gulf of Mexico, it picked up traction.

“It’s a pretty fast flow,” Walker said. “It’s going to help fire up thunderstorms.”

Barry Baxter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said nickel-size hail could be possible with this storm because of exceptionally cold temperatures of about 10 degrees at 18,000 feet.

“That’s definitely cold for this time of year,” Baxter said.

Urban flooding of poorly drained areas is possible if the thunderstorms decide to put the brakes on as they move through the region.

Thunderstorm threats should diminish as it gets later into the evening and quiet through Wednesday. But, another system is expected to move in this weekend.

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