A blast of cold air is expected to sweep across the central and eastern United States early next week, bringing strong winds and possible storminess during the busy travel period leading up to Thanksgiving.

Computer models are wavering about whether a big storm with heavy precipitation will form, but at the very least tumbling temperatures and gusty winds are anticipated. By Tuesday or Wednesday, the coldest weather of the fall so far will have probably spread across much of the eastern half of the Lower 48 states.

The forecast stakes are high, as more than 53 million American are expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, a 13 percent leap from 2020, according to AAA.

High confidence in a big cold front

Weather models are in agreement that a strong cold front will drop into the northern Plains on Sunday and then sweep across the Upper Midwest toward the East Coast early next week.

The front should reach Minneapolis on Sunday night, Chicago on Monday morning, Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon, Washington on Monday night and Boston on Tuesday morning. This timing is approximate and could change as next week draws closer.

Computer models suggest temperatures will fall 15 to 20 degrees as the front passes and will end up about 10 to 15 degrees below average in most spots.

On Monday, high temperatures in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes may hover in the teens and 20s, with 30s and 40s in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Tuesday and Wednesday after the front passes.

Wind gusts between 30 and 50 mph are probable for about a day following the cold front, with the highest gusts near the Great Lakes.

Low confidence in a big storm

Model diverge on whether a storm will materialize.

The European (ECMWF) model had been advertising a major storm developing along the cold front as it swept through the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes on Monday. It then suggested it would reform and intensify into a blockbuster off the coast of the Mid-Atlantic or New England.

Such a storm would have the potential to generate strong winds and heavy snow in the Great Lakes and interior Northeast between Monday and Wednesday next week, with wind-swept rain and snow east of the Appalachians.

However, in its latest simulation Tuesday afternoon, the European model backed off the idea of a big storm. It develops a storm but so far north that it mostly just clips the interior Northeast on Wednesday. Its forecast has shifted toward the American (GFS) model, which simply calls for a passing cold front.

Even if there isn’t a big storm, the passing cold front would probably still bring a period of gusty showers. And for areas downwind of the Great Lakes, a substantial lake-effect snow event is likely Tuesday in the front’s wake.

Finally, while the American and European models do not currently suggest a major storm will form, the time frame for one developing is still about six days away and the forecast could change.

The overall configuration of weather systems in North America could support an East Coast storm. Specifically, the jet stream — along which storms track — will be forced to dive south over the eastern United States with zones of high pressure over the western U.S. and Greenland. But it’s not clear whether the jet will drive far enough south to generate storminess over a broad area of the eastern part of the nation.