A strong cold front is sliding across the eastern United States, bringing a quick drop in temperatures that will press the pause button on spring. A hard freeze is possible in many spots, with even a taste of snow for some in the Northeast, before a gradual return to mild weather to start next week.

The same cold front was accompanied by 70 mph winds and “extreme” fire danger across many northern states, including in South Dakota, where areas west of Rapid City were evacuated and Mount Rushmore was shut down for a time on Monday.

Temperatures up and down the East Coast could fall by as much as 15 degrees in an hour as the front surges toward and across the Appalachians late Wednesday into Thursday, just in time for the start of Major League Baseball’s regular season, with the risk of flash flooding in spots and wintry precipitation farther north.

On Wednesday morning, the cold front stretched from near Toledo, to Memphis, to just east of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It will strengthen as it approaches the Southeast by Wednesday afternoon.

Dallas recorded its high temperature for the day shortly after midnight, when the mercury stood at 65 degrees. By 8 a.m. the temperature had slipped to 56, with gradual clearing and a return to upper 50s or low 60s in the afternoon. Dew points — a measure of how much moisture is in the air — had fallen from the mid-60s to the mid-20s since Tuesday night, heralding the cool rush of bone-dry continental air settling over the Lower 48. Dallas-Fort Worth is now looking at chilly lows near 40 tonight.

The brisk late-season air mass and influx of dry air will spell a fleeting reprieve from the rounds of severe weather that have targeted the South and Southeast in the past several weeks; ahead of the front, however, pockets of very heavy rain and a few strong storms are expected, along with snow to the north.

Nashville is under a flash flood watch, along with most of northeastern Mississippi, northern Alabama, Tennessee, eastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia. Music City has already picked up 9.48 inches of rain in the past week, including more than seven inches over the weekend, causing widespread serious flooding and at least five deaths.

The National Weather Service even issued a rare flash flood emergency Saturday night, urging residents to “move to higher ground now!” and warning: “This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order.”

Additional rainfall is possible in Nashville during the day Wednesday before clearing arrives Wednesday night with lows near freezing. Any remnant moisture on area roadways or pockets of standing water could freeze , especially Thursday night, when lows in the mid-to-upper 20s are expected.

Freeze warnings stretch from northern Arkansas and Missouri east into southern parts of the Midwest and across Tennessee.

The front should arrive in Birmingham, Ala., by mid-to-late afternoon Wednesday, knocking temperatures down from the low 70s to the low 50s in an hour or two. In southern Mississippi, highs near 80 on Wednesday afternoon could give way to nighttime lows near 40.

Flash flood warnings were issued in and around the Birmingham metro area as heavy rain moved into the region, an unfortunate development for victims of last week’s tornadoes working to recover items from badly damaged or destroyed homes.

Atlanta could see a round of thunderstorms with highs near 70 before lows drop into the 30s on Wednesday night. Thursday should peak only in the upper 40s, with lows Thursday night near freezing.

Those thunderstorms are connected to the same band of rain arcing along the cold front that will bring a several-hour window of showers and a few downpours to the Mid-Atlantic later Wednesday. A few strong thunderstorms are possible over the Carolinas. as well. In New England, the front will rendezvous with a wave of low pressure, yielding higher rain totals and downpours lingering through lunchtime Thursday.

Precipitation falling in cold air left in the front’s wake is likely to come down as snow from southwestern Virginia and West Virginia northeast into extreme eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, much of New York state and the northern counties of Vermont. A broad two to three inches is likely from the Keystone State to the Canadian border. Pockets of five inches or more can’t be ruled out in New York, and winter storm warnings are up for the state’s Tug Hill Plateau region.

In the nation’s capital, both Thursday and Friday nights could dip below freezing, potentially concerning for some plants, but not a huge worry for D.C.'s famous cherry blossoms, which reached peak bloom earlier this week. However, winds gusting near or past 30 mph on Thursday and Friday could blow off some petals.

The cool and windy weather will also be noticeable at Major League Baseball games, which have returned north from the warmer confines of spring training. The first pitch of the regular season is slated for 1:05 p.m. Thursday at Yankee Stadium in New York, where a damp day with temperatures in the low 40s can be expected. In D.C., Thursday evening temperatures should be near 40 with wind chills in the low 30s for the Washington Nationals home opener against the New York Mets. Similar wind chills are expected Thursday afternoon in Philadelphia where the Phillies will host the Atlanta Braves, and in Boston where the Red Sox will host the Baltimore Orioles.

While chilly air will remain entrenched in the Northeast during much of the upcoming week, a return to springlike mildness is expected for most others across the central and eastern United States during the start of next week.