A winter storm gathering strength in the Plains on Friday is poised to sweep across the Midwest, the Ohio Valley and into New England, resulting in an array of hazards. On Friday, blizzard warnings were in effect in portions of five states, with winter weather advisories and warnings for snow and ice issued in nearly two-dozen states.
The storm is forecast to produce a swath of snow from the Plains to the Northeast, affecting major travel hubs such as Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit and New York City. It’s already causing major impacts: Whiteout conditions were already reported Friday morning in Fargo, N.D.
Major cities such as Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, Rochester, N.Y., and Boston could all wind up with a healthy dose of snow, while the slurry of wintry mix is favored in St. Louis, Indianapolis, the Kansas City area, New York and Washington. In Minneapolis, up to 10 inches of snow could fall through Saturday, and winds of up to 40 mph will produce blowing snow as the storm begins to pull away during the first part of the holiday weekend.
This storm system has a history of producing significant snow, from the Pacific Northwest to the Sierra Nevada and parts of the Rockies.
Already, a shallow layer of cold is setting the stage for freezing rain and sleet in a number of locales. In Missouri, Kansas City International Airport closed down multiple times Friday morning as sleet and freezing rain forced crews to provide additional treatment to aircraft, taxiways and runways. A Delta flight bound for Detroit slid off a taxiway in Kansas City around 6:30 a.m.
A surface low-pressure area is in the process of forming in eastern Kansas. Out ahead of it, a strong storm rapidly developing in the northwest Atlantic already banked up plentiful cold air in its wake near the surface. Cold air is heavier than comparatively mild air, making it difficult to scour out, so any moisture-laden air encroaching from the south is forced to ride up and over the ground-level chill. This process, known as overrunning, can result in wintry precipitation of all types.
This is an ideal setup for producing a wintry mix, because warmer air moving in at mid-levels can melt snow, only to have the rain drops refreeze before reaching the surface as it moves through colder air below.
“With the wedge of fairly cold air at the surface below this warm nose the predominant precipitation types along and south of the [Missouri] River will be sleet and freezing rain,” wrote the National Weather Service in Kansas City.
Additional sleet and freezing rain is possible through parts of the Missouri River Valley and the eastern Plains on Friday afternoon.
By Friday night and into the wee hours of Saturday morning, snow will break out farther to the north as the system really begins to organize. Blizzard warnings are in effect for eastern North and South Dakota, while winter storm warnings plaster the remainder of Minnesota and much of Iowa and Wisconsin.
Arctic high pressure exists to the east of the developing storm system, and this will serve to tighten the air pressure gradient between them, stirring up stronger winds.
In addition to snow falling at a moderate clip, strong winds will help whip about the snow and reduce visibility below a quarter-mile at times across parts of the Plains and Midwest.
Thereafter, the system will saunter through the Upper Midwest and the Great Lakes, dropping a general four to eight inches of snow across most of its path. A few eight- to 10-inch amounts are possible in southern Michigan as well as east of Lakes Erie and Ontario, which could see some localized enhancement. Eclipsing a foot is not out of the question for the Tug Hill Plateau of New York.
Ski country in New England is forecast to pick up at least a half-foot of snow from this storm, while lesser amounts of three to five inches are probably in the cards for much of interior southern New England.
Along the snow shield’s fringe, sleet and freezing rain could complicate things amid the messy wintry mix. A few tenths of an inch of sleet are possible along the Interstate 90 corridor between Chicago and Cleveland.
Most impactful will be the freezing rain, which could deposit up to a quarter-inch of glaze on much of Missouri and southwestern Illinois through Friday night. Additional freezing rain, amounting to a touch more than a trace, will make for potentially slick travel between Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday. A few pockets of heftier icing are possible later Saturday in the Blue Ridge Mountains as well as parts of Northern Maryland. A coating of snow, plus some sleet or freezing rain, is forecast for the nation’s capital, too.
The system may linger some in New England into Sunday morning.
Behind the system, temperatures could be unseasonably warm Sunday over the Eastern Seaboard before a cold shot plunges south behind it into the weekend, freezing solid any snow and ice that falls in the Plains and the Midwest. That cold air could moderate some before reaching the East later next week.