Blizzard warnings issued in northern Plains as snowstorm ramps up
A major storm is bringing over a foot of snow, blizzard conditions and strong gusty winds to the northern Plains.
AccuWeather forecasters say over a foot of snow, strong winds and blizzard conditions are expected for many in the northern Plains through Wednesday. Later in the week, the storm will expand eastward, potentially dumping substantial amounts of snow in portions of the Upper Midwest and the interior Northeast.
This past weekend, the source of the wintry precipitation moved onshore in the Pacific states, bringing heavy rain to coastal California and heavy snow to many inland regions of the Intermountain West. Following a typical storm track, this system shifted eastward into the Plains on Tuesday, according to forecasters.
"Hundreds of thousands of square miles from the central Rockies through the northern Plains will be affected by snow, ice and blizzard conditions from the massive storm that was still in its early stages on Tuesday," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.
National Weather Service winter weather warnings and advisories in effect as of Tuesday midday, Dec. 13, 2022.
Blizzard warnings were in effect for parts of six states on Tuesday midday, specifically western Nebraska, northeastern Colorado, western South Dakota, southeastern Montana and eastern Wyoming and far northwestern Kansas. The National Weather Service also issued winter storm warnings for a larger part of the northern Plains, while winter storm watches extended into parts of the Upper Midwest.
"A potent area of low pressure formed over Colorado and Kansas on Monday night. This will continue to pull moist air northward from the Gulf of Mexico, combining it with bitterly cold air from the polar regions in Canada. With the two put together, a major snowstorm is in the cards from Colorado to Minnesota into midweek," AccuWeather Meteorologist Thomas Geiger explained.
The same storm will also create a severe weather threat across the southern U.S. through midweek.
At the storm's onset, temperatures in some areas may seem too high to support large quantities of snow. However, this strong storm will be able to easily pull in colder air, sending temperatures falling well below freezing. On Tuesday, temperatures were hovering in the upper 20s to lower 30s F over much of the eastern portion of the northern Plains.
The period from Tuesday evening through Wednesday morning is likely to bring the worst of the storm, with snowfall rates as high as several inches per hour in the most impacted spots.
Already on Tuesday, a stretch of Interstate 80 was closed from North Platte, Nebraska, to the Wyoming state line. In South Dakota, I-90 was closed from Rapid City to Chamberlain. Additional closures are likely on other major highways in the region.
The strengthening storm will also produce very strong winds, with over 60 mph gusts in some spots. The high winds and heavy snow are likely to combine to create blizzard conditions, officially defined as a snowstorm with winds of 35 mph or greater and visibility of under a quarter mile for three consecutive hours.
Snow will continue to expand eastward as the storm strengthens Tuesday night and Wednesday, allowing flakes to fly across Minnesota and Wisconsin before sunrise Wednesday morning. In these areas, warm air ahead of the storm may be a little more stubborn, leading to not only snow but any icy mix for a time.
"Across much of central and southern Minnesota, a heavy glaze of ice may be more impactful than the snow," Geiger said, noting that a tenth of an inch of ice can be more hazardous than several inches of snow.
In fact, forecasters are growing increasingly concerned that a wide area can encounter icing concerns early this week.
"While significant ice accretion causes obvious problems like snapping tree branches and bringing down power lines, even a little bit of ice can lead to serious accidents or slip and falls as people may underestimate the danger," AccuWeather Meteorologist Mary Gilbert cautioned.
Already on Monday night, portions of eastern South Dakota and northwestern Iowa racked up impressive ice totals. Linn Grove, Iowa, recorded 0.20 of an inch of ice on Monday night while the National Weather Service Office in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, reported 0.15 of an inch. For the NWS, this amount of ice was enough to glaze the building and create impressive icicles.
Where there isn't an icy mix, snow will fall quickly and heavily, potentially totaling over 6 inches for cities such as Duluth, Minnesota, Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and Marquette, Michigan. Lake enhancement may also play a role in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and the Arrowhead region in Minnesota, acting to increase the intensity of snowfall in localized spots.
Snow totals will vary greatly depending on location, however many spots are set to receive over a foot of snow, perhaps closer to 2 feet in the hardest-hit places. Pierre and Rapid City, South Dakota, as well as Bismarck and Jamestown, North Dakota, may have some of the region's highest totals.
Travel is likely to turn difficult or impossible during the height of the storm.
"In addition to the high snow totals being impactful, this storm will last for several days, likely not letting up until Thursday or Friday," AccuWeather Meteorologist Lauren Hyde said, noting that it could take an unusually long time for travel conditions to improve. Major roadways such as interstates 90 and 94 will likely close, as crews will be unable to keep up with such a large volume of snow.
Later in the week, eyes will turn to the Northeast, where the final chapter of this massive storm may occur.
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