A storm is strengthening in the West and will bring dangerous ice, snow and the threat of tornadoes as it crosses the country through the end of the week.
“Expect snow for the front range of the Rockies and critical fire threats in the southern High Plains. By afternoon/evening, a powerful storm will begin to impact the Plains and Mississippi Valley with severe storms and winter weather,” the National Weather Service (NWS) tweeted.
The potential for heavy snow began Wednesday over the northern Rockies, where more than a half foot of snow could be dropped near Denver.
However, larger snow totals are likely to the east.
This system is expected to drop snow spanning from the central Plains region to southern Michigan on Thursday, with possible totals in some areas of almost a foot.
“It looks like right now the heaviest snow will stretch from north-central Oklahoma all the way to Detroit with a thin band of ice just south of that line. Another item of concern will be the areas that change from rain and freezing rain to sleet pellets and finally to a layer of snow on top,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.
Cities at risk for snow and ice include Kansas City, Chicago and Lansing, Michigan.
In addition to snow of more than 2 inches per hour at times, regions in the path of the storm will be subject to high winds, creating an even greater hazard.
“The combination of heavy snow and strong gusty winds may lead to severely reduced visibility and hazardous travel conditions on Thursday and Thursday night,” the Weather Prediction Center (WPC) tweeted.
Up to a tenth of an inch of freezing rain is expected from central Missouri to northern Ohio, which could make travel treacherous.
The Southwest may escape the worst of the storm; however it will experience its own weather hazards Wednesday.
Extreme wind gusts of up to 75 mph are possible in the area. A combination of low relative humidity and gusty winds could create the optimal environment for fire hazards, leaving more than six million people under red flag warnings.
The threat for severe storms emerges as the system moves eastward
“As the advancing cold front clashes with the warm and moist airmass Wednesday night, a line of thunderstorms may develop across North Texas and Oklahoma,” the WPC noted. “The potential exists for storms to produce damaging wind gusts, large hail, and isolated tornadoes in this region.”
The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) posted a slight risk for severe thunderstorms, Level 2 of 5, for northern Texas and Oklahoma for late Wednesday into early Thursday.
Severe thunderstorms pose a threat of damaging winds, large hail and possible tornadoes.
“We constantly talk about the ‘ingredients’ necessary for a thunderstorm to produce a tornado. A few tornadoes are likely with the stronger storms, but this, at least right now, does not look like a massive tornado outbreak,” Myers pointed out.
However, tornadoes in the overnight hours do present an increased danger to the public, primarily because people are asleep and may not hear severe weather warnings or may be inside vulnerable structures.
“You should always have a way to get warnings, especially at night,” Myers emphasized.
As a cold front advances to the east Thursday, the threat of severe weather and heavy rainfall does, too.
The SPC projects an enhanced risk region over much of the Mid-South and Southeast on Thursday, one level higher than Wednesday’s slight risk, putting cities including Memphis, Nashville and Murfreesboro in Tennessee and Tuscaloosa in Alabama particularly vulnerable to the threat of damaging winds and tornadoes.
A combination of heavy rain along the cold front and intense rainfall rates associated with thunderstorms will produce a risk for flash flooding across the southern US.
The South is not the only region at risk of flooding.
“A Slight Risk (Level 2 of 4) of excessive rainfall is in effect from southern Illinois to western New York, as well as over parts of the Southern Appalachians on Thursday. These areas are expected to have the greatest chances for scattered instances of flash flooding” The WPC reported.
Regions farther north have the potential for flash flooding as a result of melting snow, in addition to heavy rain the storm will bring.
Basically, this storm has it all, and more storms similar to it are likely.
“As we move closer to spring, the combination of severe weather on the southern part of a storm and snow on the northern side becomes more common,” Myers added.
Whether it’s your rain jacket or your snow boots, be sure to stay prepared and informed over the next 48 hours.