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Winter storm brings dangerous icy conditions as it moves Northeast

Northeast could see several inches of snow on Friday, while freezing rain and ice will likely spread through the Ohio Valley

Motorists drive during a sleet storm in Tulsa, Okla,, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. (Stephen Pingry/Tulsa World via AP)

The blast of cold air currently sweeping through the nation is continuing to bring record low temperatures and stormy conditions, disrupting travel, knocking power and toppling trees. The storm system is affecting more than a hundred million people from Texas to Maine as the work week draws to a close.

Since Wednesday, more than 1,000 flights were cancelled at airports in the Dallas metro area, where conditions have been icy. Around two dozen schools cancelled classes or moved to virtual learning on Thursday in Arkansas and Tennessee, where slick roads, power outages and downed trees have been reported.

The Arctic blast, caused by a dip in the polar jet stream, is shifting east of the Rocky Mountains on Thursday and Friday. The storm is expected to bring additional icy conditions in the South and Midwest on Thursday. On Friday, the storm is expected to drop several inches of snow across the Northeast, including Boston, Albany, and Hartford.

The cold

Thursday morning’s readings were the coldest of the outbreak, which settled over the central U.S. earlier this week.

The city of International Falls, Minn. reached a staggering minus-40 this morning, beating out the previous daily record low at minus-31. In Sidney, Neb., the low was minus-11, beating the old record by 3 degrees.

Some spots in California were testing low records for the month of February Thursday morning. Fairfield reached 24 degrees, while Lemoore hit 22. Some agricultural damage is possible in California from this cold snap.

Today’s morning cold records are on top of dozens Wednesday, including a number of record low maximums. Record cold high temperatures occurred in places like Billings, Mont. (-3), Oklahoma City (19), and Wichita Falls (24).

Record lows and brutal wind chill hit central U.S.

Severe icing

On Thursday into Friday, the storm moves from the South to the Northeast and brings concerns of ice.

Winter storm warnings this morning stretch from Dallas to Little Rock, then to Memphis and St. Louis, Mo. Precipitation is winding down in Texas, but many accidents blamed on ice have already been reported in the Dallas area. Places to the northeast like northern Arkansas and southern Missouri can expect another 0.1 to 0.25 inches of freezing rain today, bringing some totals for the storm to around 0.5 inches.

At the Weather Service in Little Rock, forecasters didn’t mince words, writing that “power outages and tree damage are likely due to the ice. Travel could be nearly impossible.”

What is wind chill? Here’s how it makes the air feel colder.

On Thursday morning, roads across much of the northern half of Arkansas were ice and snow covered thanks to the wintry mix. Ice accumulation in that state may end up being a little lower than originally anticipated, which could help preclude widespread major power outages. About 35,000 customers were without power in the state this morning, according to PowerOutage.us.

The worst impacts from icing generally begin to occur when ice exceeds 0.5 inches, though factors including wind speed, tree strength, and power line type can influence the amount of freezing rain required for serious impacts. Localized damage can occur with as little as 0.25 inches of icing.

Freezing rain concerns will continue through the Ohio Valley late Thursday, paralleling the Interstate 70 corridor into Pennsylvania.

As the surface warm front becomes snagged in the Appalachian Mountains into early Friday, locally damaging ice accretion is possible in much of Pennsylvania and western Maryland.

An ice storm warning for the high country in this region calls for ice accumulations of more than 0.5 inches in the hardest hit spots. This is enough for the Winter Storm Severity Index to rise to the level of potential extreme impacts in that area.

Cities such as D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York will all be on the eastern edge of the ice. New York City and Philadelphia are both under winter weather advisories for wintry mix. Both urban areas could experience enough freezing rain to make travel troublesome on untreated roads, but tree damage and power outages are unlikely.

Heavy snow

North of the ice, a zone of snowfall is likely from the Central Plains through the Midwest and into the Northeast.

A broad two-to-five inches of snow in the Midwest and Lower Great Lakes Thursday will prove hazardous to travel, including in cities such as Chicago and Cleveland, where winter weather advisories are up. But the storm’s quick motion and generally weak precipitation in the region should keep most totals below 6 inches.

As the storm shifts northeast, it will begin to redevelop offshore. In doing so, it grabs additional moisture off the Atlantic Ocean. This in turn pushes snow potential upward for the interior Northeast.

Large portions of New York and New England are under a winter storm warning. Maximum snowfall zones here could pick up as much as a foot of snow. Cities such as Boston, Albany, and Hartford will likely see significant, plowable snow that will substantially impact travel. A winter storm warning is up for Boston proper, where there is potential for 7 to 12 inches by late Friday.

New York City is again on the edge, with around 1 to 2 inches of snow mixed with sleet, rain, and ice in the offing there. There is also a high ‘bust potential’ for places on the southern edge of the snow, and it remains possible that no snow at all ends up accumulating in a place like New York City.

The Weather Service forecast calls for most-likely snow accumulations between eight and twelve inches in the interior Northeast, where snowfall rates could approach one-to-two inches per hour at times Friday.

As the snow clears Saturday, a frigid airmass characterized by temperatures more than 10 degrees below normal will likely spread over much of the northeast, especially areas with a fresh snowpack.

Kasha Patel contributed to this report.

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