Tuesday, November 24, 2015

It Can't Be Thanksgiving Without A Big Messy Winter Storm

Near zero visibiity in snow and blowing snow at
Chicago's O'Hare airport Saturday. A new winter storm
could cause more Thanksgiving travel headaches this week. 
It's Thanksgiving Week!

Which means it's over the hill, and skidding into the ditch and slipping and falling on the way to Grandmother's house we go.

It really is something of a Thanksgiving tradition to have a nasty winter storm sock much of the United States during this busy travel period and there's no exception here.

In fact, one of the few places in the U.S. that won't get icky weather is the Northeast, which had a snowstorm last Thanksgiving. Go figure.

Winter storm warnings and watches were already flying this Tuesday morning or a huge swath of the northern and central Rockies as the storm sweeps in.

In the far western United States, this is going to be a cold storm, with snow levels descending to as low as 2,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada foothills. So travel will be difficult, and not just in the high passes through the Sierra. Strong winds will make matters worse.

On the bright side, winter storm warnings are up for the northern half of the Sierra Nevada range, which will add a bit to the snowpack. The winter snow accumulation is important to ease California's drought.

The snowpack was at record lows this spring, summer and early all, so any accumulation up there is good. Even if you can't actually drive through the Sierra Nevada mountains to get to your Thanksgiving destination. They're expecting a foot of snow up there in those mountains, which isn't huge by Sierra standards, but they'll take what they can get.

Aflter plowing through the Rockies with its snow and wind today and Wednesday, the storm will emerge into the Plains states Wednesday and Thursday.

This one is going to be different than the power house storm that brought tornadoes to the southern Plains, a blizzard further north and howling winds to a huge section of the country.

The storm won't be particularly strong, and will really take the form of a slow moving cold front with waves of low pressure (small storms) rippling northward along it.

That's a setup that would bring a nasty mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain over the holiday to a broad section of the country's middle. It looks like the best chances for several inches of snow at least run from Nebraska, eastern South Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Many of those places are recovering from a remarkably heavy snowstorm last Friday and Saturday.

Areas just to the east of that, maybe Kansas, parts of Nebraska, southern Iowa and into parts of Wisconsin and Michigan might get a nasty dose of freezing rain out of this. Great! Icy, impassable roads, highway pileups, broken trees and powerlines and power failures. What fun!

Luckily, in most areas threatened by freezing rain, there might not be heavy enough precipitation to cave in all the trees and powerlines. It might be mostly an icy and dangerous highway kind of thing.

In most of these areas I've just talked about, it'll probably start as rain, transition to sleet and freezing rain, then to snow before ending around Friday.

Ahead of the slow moving cold front, I'm not thinking there will be many severe storms or tornadoes like some of these early winter storms. There might be a few rambunctious thunderstorms, but the main story will probably be flooding rains.

Northeastern Texas, eastern Oklahoma and much of Arkanasas appear most under the gun for flash flooding as many inches of rain are anticipated as the strong, slow cold front trudges through during the holiday.

They're worried a bit about flooding in and around Chicago, too. Between the foot of snow that will be rapidly melting over the next couple of days and an expected one or two inches of rain out of this storm, creeks, streets and other low spots could go under water.

Details of this forecast will undoubtedly change, but the broad brush picture is this: If you're driving or flying through any part of the country west of say, Buffalo or Knoxville or Pensacola,between now and the weekend, expect possible delays, a need to establish a Travel Plan B, and being late getting to your destination.

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