A severe winter storm is expected to grip large parts of the United States and impact tens of millions of people just in time for the busiest travel period of the festive season.
An Arctic blast will descend on two-thirds of the country, bringing an unusually cold “flash freeze” particularly to Texas and north Florida.
An incoming front will produce heavy snow and blizzard conditions for much of the Midwest and Great Lakes starting late on Wednesday and carrying on through Christmas Eve, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
Along with the snowfall, very strong winds are expected to impact nearly the entire eastern half of the US.
“Extremely dangerous travel conditions” are likely from Thursday into Christmas Eve, the NWS said, impacting both road and air travel.
“With such a large and powerful storm system impacting a majority of the nation during one of the biggest travel weeks of the year, it is imperative that travelers check the latest forecast before venturing out,” forecasters warned.
Driving will be treacherous with heavy snowfall of 1-2 inches per hour at times. Accompanying wind gusts of over 50mph will result in zero visibility and blowing and drifting of snow.
On Tuesday morning, 66 flights had been cancelled and 331 were facing delays in the US, according to the FlightAware monitor’s “Misery Map”.
The strong winds could also lead to potential power outages and tree damage from the Midwest to the Northeast.
Forecasters were also warning of the potential threat from the cold snap to the Texas power system after the grid collapsed during Winter Storm Uri in February 2021.
Temperatures nearing minus 20 and minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit will enter into the northern Great Basin, northern Rockies and much of the Great Plains by Thursday.
There will be widespread wind chill of around minus 40F throughout the central and north-central US, a life-threatening cold that can lead to frostbite on exposed skin in just ten minutes.
The heaviest snowfall amounts are expected at high elevations in the Cascades and into northern Idaho, northwest Montana, and western Wyoming. These regions will have the best chances for over a foot of snow.
The greatest chances for over eight inches of snow will be across states that surround Lake Michigan.
Across parts of the central Appalachians, cold air could allow for some snow, sleet, and freezing rain.
While the science behind very cold Arctic air diving far south is complex, ClimateNexus reports studies suggest that cold spells may become more likely. Rapid warming in the Arctic due to the climate crisis appears to be playing a role in disrupting the polar vortex.