After hammering California with rain and snow, a ‘blockbuster’ winter storm is taking aim on the East, where as much as 40 inches of snow could fall over the weekend. Road travel may become “impossible” due to the heavy snow; flight delays and cancellations are also likely.
After the storm heads offshore on Sunday, the intense cold will be the main weather story as bitterly cold air straight from the Arctic will roar in, bringing below-freezing temperatures to 200 million Americans.
As for the storm, “freezing rain, heavy snow and heavy rain are expected through the central and eastern U.S. over the next few days,” the National Weather Service warned.
On Friday, the heaviest snow will hit South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, AccuWeather said.
Then, the storm will wind up and roar into the Northeast and New England on Saturday and Sunday, where the heaviest snow will fall.
AccuWeather said 40 inches is possible in parts of northern New England, while close to 30 inches of snow may fall on parts of central and northern New York state and the northern tier of Pennsylvania. Snowfall rates could reach 2-3 inches per hour.
The storm “will be a blockbuster in terms of impact and dangerous conditions,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
Snowfall of 12-24 inches is likely to be more common in the heaviest band from the storm, AccuWeather forecasts. But blowing and drifting at the height and conclusion of the storm could cause the snow depth to vary by several feet.
“Plows are not likely to be able to keep up,” Sosnowski warned. “As the storm strengthens, winds will cause major blowing and drifting of snow.”
“Those who are on the road through the heart of the snow and ice area will be at risk for becoming stranded for many hours,” Sosnowski said, adding that they “may have to face temperatures plummeting to dangerously low levels.”
The combination of winds and heavy snow could lead to numerous power outages, particularly in the heaviest snow swath in the interior Northeast, according to the Weather Channel.
Boston should finally see its first inch of snow of the winter season.
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The Weather Channel warned that a thin band of sleet and freezing rain is also possible in parts of the Ohio Valley eastward into the mid-Atlantic states.
The Weather Channel has named the storm Winter Storm Harper. No other private weather company, nor the National Weather Service, is using that name.
Following the storm, the coldest air of the season will roar across nearly the entire eastern half of the country by Monday: Some 200 million people will wake up to below-freezing temperatures on Monday morning, as far south as Florida, according to weather.us meteorologist Ryan Maue. Maue added that some 85 percent of the Lower 48 states will see temperatures at or below freezing.
A “flash freeze” could develop late Sunday, causing any standing water to quickly freeze, creating dangerous and slippery conditions.
Lows will be below zero in the upper Midwest and northern Plains with wind chills approaching 40 degrees below zero. Although the cold blast is expected to only last a day or two in most spots, it will likely mark the beginning of what is expected to be a cold end to January east of the Rockies, the Weather Channel said.
In fact, forecasters say the brutal, punishing stretch of intense cold should last well into February. The cold is partly due to the fracturing of the polar vortex earlier this month, which has slowly pushed unspeakably frigid air from the Arctic into the United States.
On Thursday, California dealt with heavy rainfall, mountain snow and flooding that threatened to trigger mudslides in areas previously scarred by devastating wildfires.
In Northern California, trees and power lines toppled in some areas deluged by up to five inches of rain in recent days. The scenic Pacific Coast Highway was closed overnight near Big Sur due to mudslides and flooding.
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In Southern California, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said 19 vehicles crashed and 35 people suffered “minor to modest injuries” in a crash in fog near mountainous Cajon Pass.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” the weather service said of the storm’s rampage.
Areas under evacuation orders included parts of fire-scarred Malibu, where all public schools were closed Thursday. Several vital canyon roads in the area were closed due to rock fall danger.
Three feet of snow or more were forecast high in the Sierra Nevada, where blizzard warnings were in effect deep into Thursday, the weather service said.
At least five deaths have been reported during the week of stormy weather.
Precipitation in California will begin to wind down by Thursday night and into Friday morning as the storm heads east.
Contributing: The Associated Press