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U.S.: Hazardous holiday travel due to bitter cold and areas of heavy snow

Christian Fernsby |
Plenty of winter weather to go around throughout the Nation during the week of the winter solstice, with potentially hazardous weather conditions spanning from the Northwest and Great Plains to the central/southern Appalachians through midweek.

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A strong arctic high pressure system extending from western Canada to the northern Plains will continue to lead to very cold air over the region while extending into much of the Pacific Northwest.

As this cold airmass gradually sinks into more of Washington State, an approaching storm system and surge of moisture will lead to widespread snow to impact northern and western portions of The Evergreen State.

Snow is likely to fall across the lowlands as well and could be heavy at times, leading to dangerous travel conditions.

The heaviest snowfall amounts are expected in the higher terrain of the Cascades and into northern Idaho, northwest Montana, and western Wyoming.

These regions will have the best chances for over a foot of snow.

Winter Storm Warnings and Winter Weather Advisories are in effect.

The next wave of potential winter weather is forecast to enter the Pacific Northwest on Thursday, with additional lowland snow and/or ice possible.

The aforementioned repository of dangerous arctic air over the northern Plains and western Canada is expected to dump southward following behind the system crossing the Pacific Northwest today.

Subzero readings with minimum values nearing minus 20 and minus 30 degrees over the northern tier will enter into the northern Great Basin, northern Rockies, and much of the Great Plains by Thursday.

Combined with wind gusts up to 60 mph, widespread wind chill values could drop to around minus 40 degrees throughout the central and north-central United States.

This level of cold can be life threatening and lead to frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes.

Wind Chill Warnings and Watches currently span across 17 states from Washington to Texas.

Along with the bitter cold air, snow is likely to add to the pre-holiday travel headaches from the central Plains to the Midwest and Great Lakes as a major winter storm begins to develop.

Areas of light to moderate snow are likely along and behind the cold front as it impacts central Plains and Upper Mississippi Valley on Wednesday and Thursday.

Snowfall amounts with this system are not expected to be that impressive until an area of low pressure forms along the front, rapidly strengthens, and races towards the Great Lakes.

Greatest chances for over 8 inches of snow is found across states that surround Lake Michigan.

It is this area that is expected to receive the longest duration of snowfall and within a very cold airmass.

Along with the snowfall, very strong winds are expected to impact nearly the entire eastern half of the U.S.

as this large system becomes fully mature by Thursday night.

Winds will create blizzard conditions throughout the central/northern Plains, Upper Midwest, and Great Lakes as well as blowing and drifting snow over locations with fresh snow cover.

Low visibility will create even more dangerous travel conditions on top of snow covered roadways.

Additionally, the strong winds could lead to potential power outages from the Midwest to the Northeast.

With such a large and powerful storm system impacting a majority of the Nation during one of the biggest travel weeks of the year, it is imperative that travelers check the latest forecast before venturing out.

For the eastern U.S., unsettled weather with moderate to locally heavy rain is possible across the Southeast today as a low pressure system slides eastward along a frontal boundary.

Moisture is then expected to lift northward into the Mid-Atlantic and Appalachians on Thursday as the deepening system organizes to the west.

Cold air damming in place could allow for a period of snow, sleet, and/or freezing rain across parts of the central Appalachians.

Otherwise, moderate rainfall and strong southerly winds are anticipated to spread up the East coast into the overnight hours on Thursday.

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