Tonight, a deep upper-level trough continues to push south and east through the Southwest producing locally heavy snowfall and strong winds.
The regions most likely to witness heavy snow tonight are the Rockies and central High Plains with snow totals up to a foot possible in the higher elevations of Colorado, New Mexico, and eastern Arizona.
Periods of snow are also expected this evening around the Denver metro area where disruptive snowfall totals of 4 to 8 inches are expected.
Farther south, strong winds are likely across southern New Mexico and West Texas where High Wind Warnings have been issued for wind gusts that could reach 65 mph.
In addition to the high winds, blowing dust may cause reduced visibilities and make for hazardous travel conditions.
This combination of blustery winds, low humidity levels, and dry fuels are ripe for dangerous fire weather conditions.
The Storm Prediction Center has issued a Critical Risk for fire weather today throughout the southern High Plains and into the higher elevations of eastern New Mexico and West Texas.
The threat for fire weather extends farther south along the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday where a Critical Risk for fire weather has been issued.
As the upper level trough exits the Southern Rockies this evening, a strengthening area of low pressure will result in blossoming areas of precipitation along and behind a cold front stretching from the Great Lakes to Texas.
Along this cold front, a clashing of a warm and moist air-mass overrunning a surging cold and dry Canadian air-mass will result in a myriad of hazardous weather.
On the north and west flank of this developing storm system, periods of heavy snow will envelope the south-central Plains Thursday morning and track into the Middle Mississippi Valley around midday.
Eventually, the swath of heavy snow reaches the Great Lakes Thursday afternoon and evening.
The latest snowfall forecast calls for a broad swath of 6 to 8 inches of snow from southern Kansas to southern Michigan with the highest probabilities of totals exceeding 8 inches located from northern Missouri to northwest Indiana.
Hourly snowfall rates up to 2 inches per hour are possible, which combined with gusty winds causing reduced visibilities will make for treacherous travel conditions.
Closer to the front itself, temperatures aloft will be too warm for snow but cold enough at the surface to cause an icy wintry mix of sleet and freezing rain.
Ice accumulations up to a tenth of an inch are possible in parts of central Missouri and the Lower Great Lakes.
Slick roads and sidewalks are likely with even some power outages and downed trees limbs possible.
In the storm's warm sector, located south and east of the cold front, heavy rainfall is anticipated from southern Missouri and Illinois to the eastern Great Lakes.
Highly anomalous moisture content for mid February is responsible for rainfall totals that could range between 1.5 to 3 inches in these areas.
As a result, a Slight Risk for Excessive Rainfall has been issued for Thursday.
Flood Watches have been issued in these areas in response to the growing hydrologic concerns for flooding tonight into Thursday.
A Slight Risk of Excessive Rainfall is also in place for portions of the Southern Appalachians where locally heavy rainfall rates could lead to flooding issues Thursday night.
Farther south, the atmosphere becomes increasingly unstable and more suitable for severe storms.
The first round of severe weather begins tonight in Oklahoma and North Texas.
A Slight Risk (risk level 2/5) has been posted for these areas due to the threat for thunderstorms capable of producing large hail, damaging winds, and tornadoes.
By Thursday, the threat for severe weather moves east into the Mid-South where an Enhanced Risk (risk level 3/5) is in place over western Tennessee, northern and central Mississippi, and northwest Alabama.
The primary concerns are tornadoes and destructive high winds with a chance for some storms to produce hail as well.
There are also numerous wind advisories from the portions of the Central Gulf Coast to northern New England that are in place through late Thursday.
Fortunately, this storm system is a fast mover as it will race into northern New England by Friday.
A wet Friday morning rush hour is on tap up and down the East Coast with the lone exception being central and south Florida.
A quick changeover to snow is possible as the cold front tracks through the Northeast, but totals will be light due to the storm's progressive nature.
Meanwhile, an Alberta Clipper brings a quick hitting round of snow to parts of the Upper Midwest and northern Great Lakes on Friday with relatively light accumulations expected. ■