Santa better fasten his seat belt this year! And so should you if you will be navigating the highways or catching a flight through the central part of the United States. We first alerted you that a change in the weather pattern would be unfolding and a storm could impact holiday travel nearly a week ago. Details on how this week’s storm will play out are just now becoming available, and there are hints that something even stronger will have an even greater impact on holiday travel near or just after Christmas Day. In all, a total of three winter storms are in the forecast to potentially impact travel across parts of the United States between now and the New Year. Specifics in timing, exact track, and strength are still very unclear about the second two, but we will watch their every move and keep you updated on WRUF-TV with your travel weather forecast at 20 minutes past the hour.
It won’t break any records and to many, may not be anything memorable. However, the timing of this pre-Christmas storm could delay those who are heading to grandma’s house this weekend, more specifically on Thursday or Friday. An area of low pressure is forecast to track from Oklahoma through Missouri and into Illinois Wednesday and Thursday. A cold front will extend south from this low and be the triggering mechanism for a line of strong thunderstorms developing in the lower Mississippi River Valley on Thursday. A squall line of potentially dangerous storms will race eastward, possibly reaching Northern Florida by Thursday evening. On the north and west side of the low’s track, a swath of accumulating snow appears very likely, possibly impacting travel in Denver Wednesday, Kansas City and Des Moines Thursday, and maybe even Chicago on Friday. Snowfall amounts in parts of northern Missouri, eastern Iowa, and southern Wisconsin could exceed 6 inches with this storm.
Most of the snow from the pre-Christmas storm will likely have time to melt by Christmas Day, but it’s around this time when a much stronger storm is being hinted at by many of the long-range forecast models. Confidence is relatively high that a significant storm will form in the Southern Plains on the 25th, then track slowly through the Ohio Valley on the 26th and 27th. Chances are this system will have more cold air to work with, take a track farther south, and potentially bring travel (both air and ground) to halt for at least a day in its wake. We should know much more on this system by the end of this week.
NEW YEAR ARCTIC BLAST
If that all weren’t enough, there is reasonable confidence on a blast of arctic air surging south into much of the nation just in time to ring in the new year. Current long-range forecast data and comparisons to other years with similar patterns suggest a period of well-below normal temperatures will be possible for the eastern two-thirds of the country. A surge of this kind is almost always welcomed in with some light precipitation (be it rain or snow), so we believe a third winter storm – although much weaker – could impact travel over the weekend before New Year’s Eve. Details in this particular system and in the magnitude of this outbreak of cold air will not be available until after Christmas.
Floridians who want to see a little snow on Christmas Day this year will likely have to travel a long way, much further than normal. Most of the Ohio Valley and East Coast will be snow-free through the holiday, thanks to the already warm pattern in place and the general storm track that sets up to the west. The Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions might have enough “left-over” snow to still cover the ground by Christmas Day, but the sure White Christmas this year will be in the West. Much of the high country in the Rockies and Cascades have a large snow pack already, and it will only be added to in the coming days. A major storm is forecast to move into the southern Plains on Christmas Day, possibly bringing smiles to many in areas that usually don’t see the white stuff on Christmas morning. Uncertainty is lowest in states like Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Missouri, and Nebraska where the timing of the developing storm will be the determining factor.
FLORIDA’S BOTTOM LINE
Floridians will be impacted by at least the first two systems, likely in the form of thunderstorms with a chance of severe weather. The cold fronts passing through will leave behind a cold enough air mass for a frost or freeze north of I-4. A frost all the way to the Everglades could even be possible near or just after the New Year. As with any large scale, long-range forecast, the details are difficult to pin down this far out. Stay tuned to WRUF-TV or follow us @GatorWeather on Twitter for the very latest in holiday travel weather.