Widespread outbreak of Arctic air to send temperatures plummeting across US
A blast of Arctic air will send the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. into a deep freeze ahead of Christmas.
A burst of Arctic air that AccuWeather meteorologists have been monitoring since last week is poised to plunge the eastern two-thirds of the United States into a deep freeze ahead of Christmas, bringing the coldest air in decades to some areas and causing heating demands to sky rocket.
Subfreezing and, in some cases, subzero temperatures are expected to grip areas from the northern Rockies to the Plains, East and South. The mercury could dip to 25-50 degrees Fahrenheit below late-December averages during the height of the cold.
"The Arctic air can envelop much of the central and eastern part of the country just prior to the holiday weekend, threatening the coldest pre-Christmas stretch in decades," AccuWeather Meteorologist Elizabeth Danco said.
Continue reading for a region-by-region expert analysis from AccuWeather forecasters on the exact timing and magnitude of the cold.
Northern Rockies to Midwest
Frigid air has been in place since the weekend across the northern Plains in the wake of a powerful and prolonged storm system that unleashed days of blizzard conditions during the second half of last week. Old Man Winter will up the ante even further as the most intense burst of Arctic air to arrive in North America yet this season charges southeastward.
"The area that got hit hard with blizzard conditions will now have to contend with another outbreak of intense cold," AccuWeather Meteorologist Matt Benz said.
By the middle of the week, a reinforcing burst of Arctic air will send temperatures well below zero. Temperatures could dip as low as 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero in some areas of Montana or North Dakota, which would come close to a stretch of extreme cold observed back in 1983 and 1989. Records from the cold outbreaks during those years still set the standard for cold air around Christmastime in much of the northern and eastern U.S.
"The cold burst in places such as Minneapolis, Chicago and Des Moines will be more typical of January or February's colder days, as opposed to December," Benz said, adding that the prolonged nature of the Arctic air would also be noteworthy.
In these cities, the fiercest cold is likely to settle in during Thursday and Friday as holiday travel ramps up in full force. When factoring in gusty winds from a large storm that is expected to develop prior to Christmas, AccuWeather experts say it will be downright dangerous for individuals who do not have enough warm layers or proper shelter to be outside for even a short amount of time.
With the combination of gusty winds and the polar cold, AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures are expected to dip even lower than the actual thermometer readings. The duo could make it feel like 40-60 degrees below zero for communities from central Montana to northwestern Kansas and northwestern Iowa.
South Central and Southeastern states
Frigid conditions will spill south and east during the latter portion of the week, leaving residents from Dallas to Little Rock, Arkansas, Nashville and Atlanta shivering ahead of the holiday weekend. At their lowest point, nighttime temperatures may bottom out in the upper single digits and teens in these cities.
Denver may experience a sharper temperature change than nearly anywhere else, according to the latest forecast. While Wednesday's high temperatures should climb into the 50s in much of the metro area, low temperatures may crater into the 20s below zero, which would be the coldest air in decades for the Mile High City.
Meanwhile, Friday and Saturday are shaping up to be the coldest days across the Southeast with highs in the 20s across the interior and in the 30s along much of the Gulf coast, with gusty winds creating even lower AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures.
"Near-freezing temperatures could also threaten crops in far southern Texas during Hanukkah and around Christmas," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bill Deger said.
"There is the likelihood of hard freezes along the Interstate 20 and 10 corridors," Deger said, adding that preventative measures should be taken by those heading away from home for the holidays to prevent frozen pipes and water damage.
Temperatures may moderate for Christmas itself on Sunday, but the burst of bitterly cold air will certainly be a wakeup call across the region following a very mild first half of December.
AccuWeather meteorologists say the cold air is on track to charge into the Northeast late Friday into Saturday. Although the air will not be quite as frigid as compared to the Rockies and Plains states, experts say it will turn downright cold for the entire region.
"Even with a slightly less-severe outcome as the air mass reaches the Atlantic coast, it is expected to be a colder Christmas than in recent years in many parts of the East," Deger said.
In New York City, for example, the high temperature on Christmas Day over the past three years has been 52 in 2021, 61 in 2020 and 47 in 2019. All of those high temperatures were above the average of 42 for the day. AccuWeather's latest forecast for the city puts the high this Christmas in the middle 20s. The lowest high temperature ever recorded on Christmas there was just 13 in 1983.
Washington, D.C., had a balmy Christmas in 2021 with a temperature of 68, but the forecast there could be nearly 40 degrees lower this year. Similar temperature contrasts from last Christmas to this Christmas can be expected throughout the Northeast.
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