Winds of Change Bring Snow, Strong Gusts to Plains

January 23, 2012; 4:45 AM ET
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The Great Plains will live up to its windy heritage today, with strong and potentially damaging gusts expected to hit some areas as a storm emerges from the Rockies.

Chilly, wintry weather from that storm will translate across the northern Plains and Upper Midwest, dropping up to a foot of snow in some areas by the start of the new workweek on Monday.

Powerful Winds: Dakotas to Texas

Farther south and west, where the air is much too dry to support any rain or snow, a strong gusty wind will be the big story into this evening, with gusts up to 60 mph possible from the western Dakotas south along the Front Range of the Rockies and through western Nebraska and Kansas to the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.

It's not implausible that a few areas could have a brief wind gust to hurricane force (74 mph or stronger), including in and near the metropolitan areas of North Platte and Scottsbluff, Neb., Dodge City, Kan., Carlsbad and Clovis, N.M., and Abilene, Amarillo and Lubbock, Texas.

Needless to say, such wind gusts can easily cause tree damage, knock down power lines and lead to some minor property damage.

There has already been reports of widespread blowing dust across western Texas and the Texas Panhandle along with wind gusts over 70 mph near the towns of Clarendon and Tulia.

This satellite image taken late Sunday afternoon shows a swath of blowing dust from east of Lubbock, Texas through southwestern Oklahoma.

Motorists, especially those in large and high-profile vehicles, will find it difficult to drive in large, open areas where wind gusts can become enhanced. Buildings in cities can also channel winds, making for stronger speeds.

Major highways that will be impacted by the wind into this evening include portions of Interstates 20, 25, 27, 40, 70, 76 and 80.

By the nighttime hours, areas from the central Dakotas to the Red River Valley will be in the axis of strongest winds, albeit slightly diminished with gusts to 40 mph still a good bet.

The combination of exceptionally low humidity levels and strong winds will make for an enhanced fire threat over parts of eastern New Mexico, western Oklahoma and Texas.

Extreme fire safety should be practiced through sunset tonight and campers should avoid lighting fires for any reason. With any fire having the potential to spread quick, be sure to safely and properly discard any cigarette butts.

Accumulating Snow: Eastern Dakotas to Ontario

With cold air flowing east, a moderate snowstorm will continue to unfold over the northern Plains and Upper Midwest into tonight. The snow will make for slippery roads, making travel difficult for some.

Travel conditions will be especially difficult where snow is falling in the eastern Dakotas and Minnesota, where gusty winds will combine with snow to make driving especially hazardous.

Additional heavy snow totals of at least 3-6 inches are expected in parts of the northeastern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, into north-central Ontario.

Similarly disruptive snow will extend into adjacent parts of southern Canada, with up to 30 cm possible in rural Ontario.

While the atmosphere will be too warm for snow farther south and east over the Midwest from eastern Nebraska to Michigan, pockets of freezing drizzle and light freezing rain will make for slippery spots, especially on bridges and overpasses.

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