An intense and sprawling winter storm is expected to develop starting Tuesday across the Great Plains, delivering hurricane-force wind gusts, severe rain, heavy snow and floods for days across a wide swath of the central United States.
The storm is forecast to rapidly intensify overnight east of the Colorado Rockies. It will then trek slowly northeast through Thursday, delivering a variety of extreme weather from New Mexico to the Midwest.
Centered in Kansas as it hits its midweek peak, gusts as strong as 100 mph are possible as the storm toys with a state record low for sea level pressure, which is one indicator of storm strength.
Blizzard and winter storm warnings are in place for portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota.
A white-out is expected in parts of the northern Plains
Heavy snow is expected in portions of the Rockies and northern Plains, with a foot or more falling in many areas.
Strong winds will bring white-out conditions through Wednesday evening to places including western Nebraska and northeast Colorado. Blowing snow will make travel treacherous or impossible during these times.
Snow should taper off by midday Thursday, but strong winds will persist through the evening.
Hurricane-like gusts may whip the southern Plains
Thunderstorms overnight Tuesday across portions of the southern Plains will make way on Wednesday for sustained winds of 35 to 45 mph, akin to the strength of a low-end tropical storm. The National Weather Service has issued high wind watches for more than 8 million people.
Even stronger wind gusts of 50 to 70 mph are expected Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning across Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma, CNN meteorologist Monica Garrett said. Some areas could see gusts as strong as 100 mph, which is equivalent to the wind speed of a Category 2 hurricane.
Widespread power outages will be a significant concern.
Soaking rains and snowmelt could flood the Midwest
Parts of the Midwest on Wednesday are expected to see heavy rains, a big worry after recent record-setting snowfall.
Flood watches have been issued across the Midwest and Great Plains amid concerns that heavy rains will melt snowpack and trigger significant flooding. Flash flooding is possible if ice jams clog rivers and streams, the weather service notes.
Rain is predicted to begin turning to snow in these areas by Wednesday evening.
More severe storms are due to hit the South
Farther south, strong winds, large hail and a few tornadoes are possible overnight Tuesday from southeastern New Mexico to western Texas.
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As the system pushes east, another round of early spring storms is due to take shape. The primary concern is damaging winds, and brief tornado activity is possible.
Portions of Louisiana and Arkansas face a slight risk for severe weather Wednesday, the Storm Prediction Center said. The risk shifts Thursday into Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.