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Christmas holiday travel disruptions may unfold for central, eastern US

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
December 20, 2017, 2:10:36 AM EST

As frigid air plunges into and builds over the central United States, a stormy pattern with snow, ice and rain may unfold from Texas to Maine for Christmas holiday travelers.

During a typical winter, this weather pattern can bring a storm and travel concerns once every five to seven days.

However, with the pattern anticipated from Dec. 21 to Dec. 26, there is the potential for two storms that may be disruptive to travel in areas from the Rockies and southern Plains to the Midwest and Northeast states.

"The key to which areas stand the best chance of snow and/or ice will depend on how far to the south and east frigid air pushes out from the North Central states," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

The first storm and its snow will primarily be a concern from the northern Rockies to the Upper Midwest later this week.

LateWeek 12.19

In the wake of this storm, colder air may settle from parts of the southern Plains to part of the Ohio Valley on Saturday, Dec. 23. Meanwhile, most areas along the Atlantic Seaboard can expect above-normal temperatures for late in the week.

Since cold air will not be established in time for the arrival of precipitation in the East, most travelers in the Northeast will likely have to deal with delays associated with rain, fog and a low cloud ceiling around Saturday, Dec. 23. Some pockets of ice and snow are possible over parts of the northern Appalachians.

"We have concerns for a second storm to spring up in the south between Dec. 24 and Christmas Day," Doll said.

How quickly the cold and the next storm move eastward will determine which areas might get snow and ice.

Xmas 12.19

One scenario brings the cold air eastward with the storm riding along the Northeast coast on Christmas Day. This would keep it generally dry across the Upper Midwest with areas of lake-effect snow. Snow and ice may be a concern for the Northeast.

The second scenario has the storm and cold air moving eastward even more quickly. Should this be the case, the Midwest and Northeast would trend drier and colder, aside from traditional bands of lake-effect snow.

In this scenario, some snow and ice may make another visit to parts of the Deep South on Christmas Eve as the storm quickly passes through.

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Farther ahead, toward the days surrounding New Year's Day, the same issues with the spread of cold air versus frequency of storms will continue.

Meanwhile, the magnitude of the cold air forecast to settle over the Central states may pose a problem for travelers.

Motorists venturing anywhere in the swath from the interior Northwest to the central and northern Plains should make sure their vehicle can handle severe cold weather and they have packed blankets and warm clothes.

Most of the storms with precipitation will bypass coastal areas of California. However, trouble with periodic strong winds fanning the flames of existing wildfires will likely continue into the start of 2018.

AccuWeather will continue to provide updates on the potentially hazardous travel weather pattern in the coming days.

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