A widespread storm is threatening to bring a triple whammy of heavy snow and strong winds along with freezing temperatures across much of the US on Wednesday, lasting through the end of a busy travel week.
Forecasters have warned that this week’s powerful storm could disrupt travel as it hits areas from the northwest through the Plains, Great Lakes and central Appalachians before reaching the northeast by the end of the week, according to the National Weather Service . .
Winter weather advisories are in effect for more than 70 million people from Washington state to Maryland.
The heaviest snow is expected across the Cascades and northern Idaho, northwestern Montana and western Wyoming, where more than a foot is forecast, the weather service said.
For many other areas in the northern part of the country, even if less snow falls, it is expected to be light and fluffy, and with winds around 30 to 50 mph, it could make travel dangerous for the next two to three days.
Along with the wind, the brutally cold temperatures have prompted wind chill warnings from the Gulf of Mexico to the US-Canada border and from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast. The wind chill, which indicates how the wind feels, could be 50 to 70 degrees below zero, according to the weather service.
“Wind gusts of this magnitude can cause frostbite in less than 5 minutes if precautions are not taken, with possible hypothermia and prolonged exposure to the cold,” the weather service warned Tuesday.
Throughout Wednesday, the storm system will move through Montana, Idaho and Oregon into the morning. It will start affecting cities like Minneapolis, Omaha, Denver and Salt Lake City in the early afternoon and continue into the evening.
In anticipation of a travel nightmare week, United, American, Delta, Southwest and Jet Blue have issued travel waivers for dozens of airports across the country from the south to the northeast because in addition to snow covering the roads, low visibility can make air travel dangerous.
“With such a large and powerful storm system affecting the majority of the nation during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year, it is imperative that travelers check the latest forecasts before heading out,” the weather service advises.
In response to the colossal storm, governors of several states across the country have taken some steps to prepare.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has activated more than 100 National Guard members to support extreme cold weather operations across the state, according to a news release.
“Colorado is about to experience extreme weather and freezing temperatures, and the Guard stands ready to assist local communities to keep people safe during this extreme cold weather,” Polis said.
North Carolina declared a state of emergency Tuesday to help transport fuel and critical supplies, help first responders and protect consumers from price increases, the governor’s office said in a statement.
West Virginia has been declared on alert, according to the governor. Missouri has also activated the state’s emergency operations plan, which frees up National Guard resources to respond to the effects of the storm if needed.
So far, snow has fallen primarily in parts of northern and central Montana, northern and central Idaho, eastern Oregon, western North Dakota, central South Dakota, and western Colorado.
The storm, which is expected to develop into a bomb cyclone, is expected to strengthen quickly as temperatures drop sharply across much of the US by the end of the week.
To qualify as a bomb cyclone, a storm must drop 24 millibars (a measure of atmospheric pressure) in 24 hours.
Storms are more typically seen in winter and Easter. But in this week’s case, the bomb cyclone is expected to hit the Plains, where there is an extreme temperature difference between the warm, moist air ahead of the storm and the arctic air mass moving in from Canada behind it.
The storm is expected to reach the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane as it reaches the Great Lakes, with the weather service describing the low’s strength as a “once in a generation” event.
“This is one case where snow totals may not tell the whole story. Even small amounts of snow, when combined with very strong winds and a drop in temperature, can cause poor visibility and slick road surfaces. The sudden arrival of these conditions can increase the risk weather service explained.
In addition, strong winds can knock down power lines from the Midwest to the Northeast, especially in areas where heavy snowfall has fallen in the past week and is already weighing down tree limbs.