A blockbuster storm is on the way for the nation’s midsection Wednesday and Thursday. Depending on location, it will generate blinding snow, heavy rain and storms, powerful winds, or a combination.
Blizzard warnings have been hoisted in the northern Plains, with winter storm warnings from the Continental Divide to the Great Lakes. To the south, a major windstorm is gathering steam. Some severe thunderstorms and flooding will also be risks from this storm.
It’s already taking shape. The earliest signs of pressure falls, indicating a developing storm, are occurring to the east of the Rockies on Tuesday.
While the storm is just slowly gaining strength, it is expected to begin rapidly intensifying Wednesday morning. Although it may not qualify as a “bomb cyclone” like the storm in March, it will be quite powerful nonetheless. Weather models continue to drop its pressure to about 980 millibars in the western Plains, which would be enough for an April low-pressure record.
Greg Carbin of the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center points out that new April low-pressure records could be established in Kansas, breaking earlier marks set during the 1974 super tornado outbreak.
Heavy spring snow and blizzard conditions
A blizzard warning is up for much of South Dakota as well as portions of northeast Colorado, northwest Nebraska and southwest Minnesota. Twelve to 18 inches is expected in a large region mostly Wednesday and Thursday. Southeast South Dakota and western Minnesota are expected to be hardest hit, with 1.5 to 2.5 feet possible.
A number of areas could witness thundersnow during this event. Snow and strong winds will create treacherous conditions with limited visibility and hefty snow drifting.
- In Denver, it’s supposed to be near record highs around 80 Tuesday. Rain develops and turns to snow Wednesday. The blizzard warning for the city suggests about four to eight inches there. Wind gusts of 40 to 60 mph cause white-out conditions into Wednesday night.
- North Platte, in south central Nebraska, is on the edge of the biggest snow. Under a winter storm watch, with a blizzard warning northwest, they’re expecting eight to 12 inches of snow. Totals rapidly increase to the north, and wind gusts are about 50 mph.
- South Dakota’s capital, Pierre, is under a blizzard warning Wednesday afternoon through predawn Friday, where 12 to 18 inches is forecast.
- “A potentially historic storm will bring severe impacts,” wrote the Weather Service office serving the Twin Cities in its recent update. Minneapolis may pick up only 6 to 12 inches, but widespread totals of 1.5 to 2.5 feet are expected in southwest parts of the state.
Big wind and a fire threat
On the warmer side of the storm, the impacts are largely wind-related, although some severe thunderstorms are also anticipated. Like the March bomb cyclone, this storm seems likely to affect weather in a majority of the country as it spreads its wings.
- Albuquerque is under a red-flag warning for high fire danger. So is much of the state of New Mexico, and into the high plains of Colorado as well as Kansas to Texas. Wind gusts are expected to top 50 mph through Wednesday.
- The Texas panhandle and Amarillo is close to ground zero for wind. Sustained winds as high as 40 to 50 mph are possible in this region Wednesday, with gusts as high as 70 mph or so. In addition to extreme fire danger, blowing dust is likely.
- Cities such as Wichita, Oklahoma City and Dallas will see winds gusting to about 40 mph in the wake of the storm, but very little if any rain will fall.
Severe storms limited but possibly potent
If this storm had more moisture to work with on its warm side, we’d be talking a major severe weather outbreak. But even with a limited moisture supply, some powerful thunderstorms are possible, although they should have rather small coverage.
- Thunderstorms develop near the Kansas and Nebraska border Wednesday, eventually heading toward Iowa. The primary risk is hail and damaging winds. There is also potential for an isolated storm or two to form across northern Kansas, which may have a tornado threat if so.
- The severe weather threat translates east through the Midwest on Thursday. A focus may be Illinois and Indiana, where a line of storms is likely to threaten damaging wind gusts thanks to very strong winds aloft.
New flooding may primarily come from snow melt
Falling largely as snow, the equivalent of 1.5 inches or more of water is slated to fall from western South Dakota through southern Minnesota as well as across southern Wisconsin, including northern Nebraska and Iowa. Some spots could pick up as much as two to three inches.
Because it’s April, snowmelt is likely to be rather rapid once the storm ends and temperatures moderate.
The James, Big Sioux and Minnesota rivers in particular have numerous spots at major flooding and will see some of the heaviest snow. While temperatures are initially chilly in the wake of the storm, readings well above freezing arrive next week.
Near Hawarden, Iowa, on the Big Sioux, major flooding is forecast to dip for a time, but significant rises are expected once warmer temperatures move in and snow melts. Renewed major flooding, especially near rivers, will probably be the story in other spots in the Plains and Midwest next week as well.