Christmas time: ‘Once in a generation’ winter storm to hit nearly every state and cripple travel


A major winter storm and cold blast will hit nearly every state and bring what the National Weather Service calls a “once-in-a-generation event” that will cripples travel on some of the busiest travel days of the year.

Strengthening storm will bring more than a foot of snow and possible blizzards to Midwest, weather service warns “life threatening” wind chill for millions.

More than 90 million people are under winter weather warnings and more than 87 million are under wind chill warnings. The signals span 37 states, reaching as far south as the Texas-Mexico border.

The cold will stick through the Christmas weekend, making this the coldest Christmas in about 40 years for parts of the Plains and Midwest.

Wednesday: The storm will strengthen over the Northern Plains during the day as heavy snow falls across much of the Rockies, Northern Plains and Midwest. Slick roads will lead to travel headaches and airport delays through places like Minneapolis, Omaha and Rapid City.

This system will bring 5 to 9 inches of light, fluffy snow across the region, with “the highest amounts just north and west of the Twin Cities,” the Twin Cities Weather Service said. Although snow will fall steadily across the region, strong winds won’t kick in until Thursday.

Denver will go from a high of 47 on Wednesday to a low of minus 14 on Thursday morning. It will be the city’s coldest day in 32 years, according to the weather service.

Thursday: Thursday will be the hardest day to travel. The storm will hit the Midwest extremely hard with heavy snow and strong winds. Western Minnesota will face not only blizzards, but potentially deadly cold winds Thursday and Friday.

“Overcast conditions are expected during this time, with travel becoming very difficult or impossible,” the weather service said. “This event can be life-threatening if you’re stranded with wind chills in the 30 below 45 below zero range.”

Chicago could also experience blizzards with wind gusts up to 50 mph, with 2 to 4 inches of snow forecast.

“Overall, concern continues to grow for the rapid development of hazardous conditions Thursday afternoon with a potentially significant impact on the evening peak travel window,” the weather service in Chicago warned.

In addition, strong winds could knock down power lines in the Midwest, especially in areas where heavy snow fell last week and is already weighing down tree branches. This will cause millions to find a way to stay warm as temperatures drop well below freezing.

Snow could fall as far south as Jackson, Mississippi, Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, and even Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday. Little or no accumulation is expected for most of the southern cities, but Nashville could get about an inch of snow.

In anticipation of what will be a week of travel nightmares, United, American, Delta, Southwest and Jet Blue have issued travel exemption for dozens of airports across the country from the south to the northeast as, in addition to snow covering roads, low visibility can make air travel dangerous.

friday: The storm is expected to become a “bomb cyclone” Thursday night into Friday. A bomb cyclone is when a storm rapidly intensifies – and drops 24 millibars (a term used to measure atmospheric pressure) in 24 hours.

The storm is expected to reach pressure equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane when it reaches the Great Lakes, with the weather service describing the low’s strength as a “once-in-a-generation” event.

“This is a case where snow totals may not tell the whole story. Even small amounts of snow, combined with very strong wind gusts and a sharp drop in temperatures, can cause poor visibility and slippery patches on the roads. The sudden onset of these conditions could increase the hazard,” the weather service explain.

The storm will be over the Great Lakes on Friday and will continue to produce heavy snow across much of the Midwest. Parts of Michigan could get more than a foot of snow by Friday, making travel impossible at times.

Heavy rain will also blanket much of the I-95 corridor, adding to travel problems and long delays at the airport.

Even where the snow has ended, strong winds will continue to gust 30 to 40 mph across much of the Midwest and Northeast.

Friday night into Saturday morning, New England will get a quick shot of snow and windy conditions.

Places that will escape the snow will not escape the cold. Areas from eastern Montana to the Dakotas will experience the coldest air early Thursday morning. Temperatures will be 40 degrees below normal for these places. The combination of cold temperatures and windy conditions will result in wind chills as low as 50 degrees below zero.

Rapid City will feel like 45 degrees below zero on Thursday morning. By Friday morning, Chicago’s wind chill will reach a low of 30 degrees below zero.

“Dangerously cold wind chills can cause frostbite to exposed skin in as little as 5 minutes,” the weather service in Bismarck warned.

Even in the south it will be dangerously cold. Wind chills in Nashville and Atlanta will drop to minus 11 Saturday morning, and in Birmingham it will feel like minus 5.

Jackson and Birmingham will spend more than 80 hours below freezing between Friday and Monday. Houston could stay below freezing for 46 hours between Thursday and Saturday.

Cold temperatures will linger through the Christmas weekend before finally easing next week.

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