So far in 2019, the only region east of the Mississippi River that’s endured a major snowstorm is the Mid-Atlantic, but that is about to change in a big way. A powerful winter storm is set to dump heavy snow and ice from northern Illinois to New England over the weekend.
Ahead of the storm, the National Weather Service has issued winter storm watches affecting more than 40 million people in this sprawling zone.
On Saturday morning, a vigorous disturbance in the atmosphere, remnants of the storm system that dropped feet of snow in the Sierras, will serve as the focal point for a strengthening storm centered near the Missouri-Arkansas border.
Fueled by the stark contrast between bitter cold pouring in from Canada and warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico, the potent storm will charge through the Ohio Valley into southern New England, unloading a heavy and hazardous mix of frozen precipitation.
North of the storm center, heavy snow will be the main hazard. But areas right along the storm track could see the full gambit of precipitation types, including extremely hazardous freezing rain.
Current projections suggest the forecast storm track would dump about 5 inches to 10 inches of snow, or possibly more, between Friday afternoon and early Sunday from Chicago to Pittsburgh, including in Cleveland and Detroit.
By Sunday, the juiced-up storm system will cut across the Northeast, probably emerging over the Atlantic just south of southern New England, typically the sweet spot for a major New England snowstorm.
The exact track of the storm is always a crucial factor in forecast specifics, and this one could still fluctuate. But if current track forecasts hold, it would result in some huge snowfall amounts for Upstate New York and interior New England, areas that have seen abnormally little snow in 2019 so far.
The interior Northeast should have no problems squeezing out the snowfall amounts shown below, in the range of one to two feet. But closer to the coast, including in major population centers from New York City to Boston, there remains a considerable amount of uncertainty as to what type of frozen precipitation will fall and how much.
This storm is a particularly complicated one to forecast. While it is likely to hit the ocean south of New England, the associated high-altitude disturbance will carve a path further inland, tracking up through New York state and dragging a layer of warm air into the lower atmosphere. This would set up a scenario where an extended period of freezing rain could occur in such places as New York City and Connecticut.
Freezing-rain accumulations of 0.5 inches or more would result in widespread downed tree limbs and power outages, and could paralyze roadways in the busy Northeast corridor.
By early next week, an Arctic air mass will settle in across the entire eastern half of the country. The bitterly cold temperatures will only compound the problems brought on by any power outages, potentially leaving a substantial number of people without access to heat during what looks to be the start of an extended period of cold weather.