An outbreak of Arctic air will mark the final days of winter across central, eastern US
The final days of winter will feature temperatures below the historical average for a large part of the country.
Old Man Winter is in no hurry to leave.
Although this season has been a milder winter for the eastern two-thirds of the United States, the final days before spring officially begins on Monday, March 20, will be marked by harsh cold from the Arctic that will make its presence felt as far south as southern Texas, AccuWeather meteorologists say.
As the last hours of winter tick away, the outbreak of cold air will expand from the central U.S. to much of the East this weekend in the wake of a strengthening storm near the Great Lakes. The frigid conditions are expected to hang around into the first few days of spring as winter exacts some revenge on its way out the door.
Old Man Winter will leave the freezer door open
Relative to historical averages for the date, some of the coldest weather of the winter is in store for the Midwest and Northeast this weekend. There have been only a handful of dates since December when double-digit temperature departures have occurred this winter. Those were during the Christmastime Arctic air outbreak and in early February for most locations.
In Chicago, temperatures are expected to fall well short of the freezing mark on Saturday after temperatures begin the day in the teens during the morning. The historical average low is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, with the high being 48 F in the Windy City.
In New York City, temperatures will bottom out near 32 F Saturday and Sunday nights, with the colder of the two weekend days to be Saturday. Actual temperatures may struggle to get much past 40 F.
Gusty winds will add to the chill on both days of the weekend, but winds could also be quite strong and locally damaging from the Great Lakes to the central Appalachians. Gusts will range between 40 and 60 mph, with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ gust near 70 mph along the shores of the Great Lakes.
The winds will help send AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures about 10-20 degrees lower than the actual temperature. The cold may be harshest during the start and end of the days when the sun is low in the sky and the winds are strong.
The air will be cold enough to generate bands of lake-effect snow around the Great Lakes, which are largely ice-free. Typically there is between 30% and 40% ice coverage on the lakes in mid-March. However, the latest data compiled by NOAA suggest that there is currently under 10% ice coverage, due to air temperatures ranging from 2-6 degrees Fahrenheit above the historical average for the three-month period from Dec. 1 through Feb. 28.
As a dip in the jet stream pivots from the eastern Great Lakes to the northern and central Appalachians, bands of lake-effect snow and locally heavy snow squalls that develop may pose a hazard for motorists on the highways, forecasters say.
Snow squalls are the wintertime equivalent of summertime thunderstorms. Instead of bringing torrential downpours and flash flooding, snow squalls can bring a sudden drop to near-zero visibility and a quick covering of snow and slippery conditions. In the past, snow squalls have contributed to deadly multivehicle accidents on major interstate highways in the Midwest and Northeast.
"The heaviest snow squalls are likely to extend from Michigan to northeastern Ohio and into western, central and northern New York state on Saturday," AccuWeather Lead Storm Warning Meteorologist Brian Wimer said. "The squalls are most likely to cross portions of interstates 69, 75, 94, 96, 81, 86, 90 and 196."
It is possible that a squall or two may dip as far to the south as I-80 in eastern Ohio and northern Pennsylvania as well.
Frigid air to extend deep into southern US
The outbreak of Arctic air will be felt in the Southern states as well and most likely not with welcoming arms. The risk of a freeze will extend across the central, southern and northeastern U.S. this weekend.
Around Atlanta, nighttime lows will dip bleow the freezing mark Saturday and Sunday nights, which means that many of the outlying suburbs will plunge well into the 20s.
While the Florida Peninsula may be spared from the Arctic outbreak, Texas will not.
"A strong area of high pressure across the central Plains will push cold air unusually far south into Texas and northern Mexico, which will set the stage for cloudy and raw conditions this weekend," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Adam Douty said. AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures during the daytime may dip into the 30s where it rains for a time with a breeze.
Actual temperature departures from the historical average will range from 25-50 degrees in the zone from southern New Mexico through southern and western Texas. Snowflakes may fly and accumulate in part of the Big Bend region this weekend.
Typical highs range from the mid-60s F over the mountains in West Texas and southern New Mexico to near 80 F along the lower Rio Grande Valley this time of year.
"Daily record low and low maximum temperatures are likely to be challenged and even shattered in some cases," Douty said. This weekend, nighttime temperatures may dip to near freezing along the middle portions of the Rio Grande. Temperatures will dip well down into the 40s F and perhaps into the upper 30s F in portions of South Texas.
The March record low maximum temperature at McAllen, Texas, could be challenged. The coldest high temperature on record in the city near the Mexico border is 39 F and was set on March 4, 2002. Records there date back to the World War II era.
In Houston, daytime highs may be no better than the mid-50s on both days of the weekend, which is the historical average low for mid-March.
After a warm first half of March in Dallas that featured temperatures as high as 88 degrees, nighttime lows will be in the 30s this weekend, and temperatures may struggle to reach the mid-50s on Sunday.
Temperatures will rebound gradually from west to east across the Central and Eastern states early next week. It is possible that many areas actually trend above the daily historical average as the first week of spring progresses. However, that might not be the case across the northern tier of the Central states, parts of New England and upstate New York, where deep snow from prior storms will remain on the ground for a time and likely negate the warmup.
Spring weather battles ahead
While warmer days are ahead for much of the Southern states and parts of the north-central region, cold air may put up more of a fight in the Northeast moving forward during April and part of May.
As storms continue to track northeastward across the Central states and pull warmer and more humid air northward from the Gulf of Mexico, rounds of thunderstorms are anticipated in the South Central and Southeast states as well as in the middle of the nation moving forward this spring. Some of those storms will even become severe and unleash tornadoes and other hazards such as damaging winds and large hail.
As the deep snow cover begins to melt over the north-central U.S., Southern California and the northern tier of the Northeast, the risk of river flooding may increase.
AccuWeather meteorologists will continue to provide updates on the 2023 spring forecast.
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