A strong storm is plowing through the Lower 48 this weekend.

It’s going to be a beautiful spring weekend on the Eastern Seaboard. Ample sunshine pushes highs to around 80 degrees from Washington to New York City as the week comes to an end. It is perfect weather for airing out the house and spending time outside — until the storm arrives.

A wild spring storm is sweeping across the Lower 48 this week, and it is putting an end to the beautiful spring weather that preceded it. After temperatures reach the 70s and 80s in much of the eastern United States on Friday and Saturday, this storm will pull them down into the 30s and 40s. Parts of the upper Plains and upper Midwest will even drop into the teens and 20s. Severe thunderstorms are in the forecast across the South and Mid-Atlantic, and a windy, white-out snowstorm looks as though it will hit the northern states.

Yes, there might be a blizzard in the upper Midwest this week.

Here’s a breakdown of what we expect as of Friday.

Blizzard conditions and heavy snow


National Weather Service snowfall forecast through Sunday afternoon. (weatherbell.com)

On the north side of the storm, frigid air is spilling south into the Lower 48. Heavy snow is expected to spread from northeast Colorado to northern Michigan.

Howling winds are expected to accompany the storm on Friday, and blizzard warnings stretch from northeast Colorado through north central South Dakota. Winds gusting up to 50 to 80 mph are predicted to bring whiteout conditions in this zone.

The heaviest snow is expected near the Nebraska-South Dakota border, where totals may exceed two feet, with higher drifts.

“Travel will be very dangerous to impossible,” the National Weather Service warned on Thursday.

Farther to the east toward the Twin Cities, the winds won’t be quite as severe, but the Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for 5 to 8 inches of snow, from Friday evening to Saturday night. Localized totals could reach a foot, with wind gusts up to 45 mph.

Tornadoes and severe storms


Severe thunderstorms are in the forecast for the Central United States this weekend. The highest risk is in Arkansas. (National Weather Service)

Immediately south of the blizzard, severe thunderstorms will erupt on Friday as hot air meets cold air. The Storm Prediction Center issued a “moderate” risk of severe weather for Friday, which is the second-highest risk on its scale.

“Several tornadoes (some strong), very large hail, and damaging winds will be possible,” the center said.

On Saturday, that zone shifts east along the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley.

Extreme fire danger


Wildfire risk on Friday. (National Weather Service)

The powerful cold front developing along the storm’s leading edge is drawing up hot, dry winds over New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma, resulting in an “extremely critical” fire risk. Relative humidity is very low — about 5 percent. “Hot spots” were showing up on Thursday evening in the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma, and by Friday morning they had turned into full-blown wildfires.

In Amarillo, the mercury soared into the 90s Thursday, near record levels, with wind gusts to 50 mph. This area is tinder-dry, having hardly received any rain in many months.

Dramatic temperature swings

Along the warm front extending east of the storm center and the cold front shooting south, tremendous temperature swings are expected.

The warm front, over a distance of mere miles, will separate radically contrasting temperatures. On Saturday afternoon, the American model shows:

  • A temperature of 80 degrees in Springfield, Mass., but 50 in Boston.
  • A temperature of 73 degrees in Binghamton, N.Y., but 40 degrees in Syracuse.
  • A temperature of 76 degrees in Pittsburgh but 38 in Erie, Pa.

American (GFS) model forecast of temperatures at 2 p.m. Saturday.

By Sunday, the NAM model suggests that warm front could press south, pushing the warm-cold transition zone into the Mid-Atlantic. This model on Sunday afternoon shows:

  • A temperature of 73 degrees in Richmond, Va., but 49 in Washington, D.C. (this would be a big change from current forecasts, which currently have D.C. in the 70s on Sunday).

NAM model forecast of temperatures at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Meanwhile, to the west, along the cold front:

  • Omaha, Neb., is forecast to fall from 75 degrees at 7 p.m. Friday to 46 degrees by 7 a.m. Saturday.
  • Oklahoma City is forecast to fall from 72 at 4 p.m. Friday to 46 degrees at 4 a.m. Saturday.

American (GFS) model forecast of temperatures at 7 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. Saturday central time.

By Tuesday, this cold front will exit the East Coast, dropping temperatures to below normal for most of the eastern third of the nation.

Heavy rain


Rainfall forecast through next week.

As this powerful storm system tracks east and draws copious moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, a large area is expected to receive very heavy rainfall.

At least an inch of rain (and/or melted snow) is forecast everywhere in the eastern third of the Lower 48 through Monday. Locally higher amounts of 2 to 4 inches are possible in some locations.