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U.S.: Blizzard, critical fire weather, and severe thunderstorms this weekend

Christian Fernsby |
A maturing storm system over the northern Plains will be the catalyst for active weather across the central U.S. this weekend.

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The low pressure system currently located over south-central South Dakota is expected to continue strengthening today as it loops over the Dakotas and eventually exits northeast into Canada on Sunday.

A broad precipitation shield to the north and west of the system, aided by a closed upper-level low, will produce areas of heavy snow across parts of the northern/central Rockies and northern High Plains.

Snowfall amounts up to two feet are forecast throughout northeast Wyoming, eastern Montana, and western North Dakota.

Strong wind gusts as high as 60 mph combined with heavy snow will reduce visibility and make travel difficult to impossible at times.

Blizzard Warnings are in effect.

On the warm side of the system, numerous showers and thunderstorms will lead to the threat of severe weather and flash flooding over the next couple of days.

A potent cold front pushing through the Great Plains has already sparked a line of severe thunderstorms early this morning from central Nebraska to the Texas Panhandle.

The severe weather threat will gradually shift eastward today along the cold front, extending from Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas to central Oklahoma.

This includes the potential for damaging wind gusts, large hail, and a few tornadoes.

In order to highlight the potential, the Storm Prediction Center has issued a Slight Risk (level 2/5) of severe thunderstorms for this region.

Additionally, a few storms could contain heavy rainfall rates and lead to isolated-to-scattered instances of flash flooding.

Heavy rain may also fall over areas enduring a melting snow pack across northern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota today, increasing the threat for flooding and prompting Flood Watches to be issued.

By Sunday, the threat of excessive rainfall increases as the cold front stalls across the Mid-Mississippi Valley and southern Plains.

Rainfall totals may exceed two inches from far north-central Texas to northwest Arkansas, including southeast Oklahoma.

A Slight Risk (level 2/4) of Excessive Rainfall has been issued for an area extending from central Texas to southern Illinois, where scattered flash floods are possible.

Meanwhile, on the warm, but dry side of the system there remains the threat of critical fire weather through this evening.

Gusty westerly winds combined with low relative humidity will make for ripe wildfire spreading conditions from the central Plains to the southern Rockies/High Plains.

Ongoing fires could continue to spread uncontrollably, with new fires easily started as well.

Red Flag Warnings and a Critical Risk of fire weather remain in effect from central Kansas across the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles into eastern New Mexico.

Wind Advisories have also been issued and extend throughout much of the Great Plains.

In the temperature department, above average and summer-like warmth will surge ahead of the aforementioned cold front.

Highs into the 80s will reach into the Midwest today, extending into the Lower Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic on Sunday.

Warmer weather will also make a return to southern California and the Southwest by Sunday as an upper-level ridge builds into the region.

Well below average temperatures are rightfully forecast across the northern Plains over the next few days as fresh snow blankets this part of the country.

Slightly below average temperatures will also extend into the Midwest, central and southern Plains by the beginning of the week following the cold frontal passage.

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