A storm triggering full-blown blizzard conditions across the northern Plains at midweek will direct a blast of bitterly cold Arctic air across the Midwest, as well as southern and eastern parts of the United States through Christmas Day.
AccuWeather meteorologists are warning that the Arctic air and brutal winds will make it feel like the dead of winter -- and the combination of snow and a dramatic freeze-up will have some locations feeling like the North Pole.
Even though travel restrictions are in place in many areas of the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the weather will be a further deterrent from Minnesota to eastern Tennessee and the mountains of North Carolina. Advancing cold air will continue to catch up with the back edge of a storm and a trailing cold front in the Central, Southern and Eastern states, causing wintry weather and a slew of hazards for motorists.
High winds gusted as high as 80 mph, causing blowing snow and whiteout conditions over portions of Nebraska and the Dakotas on Wednesday morning -- and the wintry weather won't stop there.
"Snow and gusty winds will extend across much of Minnesota, the northwestern parts of Iowa and Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan into Wednesday night," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Brett Anderson said.
"Plunging temperatures from parts of the Plains to the Upper Midwest will create a quick freeze-up so that road conditions transition from slushy to snow-covered and icy," Anderson said.
Snow will dodge the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., areas this time around, but the cold sweep will be brutal. On Thursday, temperatures may struggle to reach 30 F in Kansas City and St. Louis and may not reach 20 in Chicago and Milwaukee. Highs in the single digits are forecast for Minneapolis on Thursday.
"AccuWeather RealFeel Temperatures are forecast to plunge below zero over a large part of the northern and central Plains by Thursday morning, and the core of that brutally cold air will settle slowly eastward," Anderson said, adding, "The polar air will pack a bite farther south."
The temperature in Atlanta will dip into the 20s during nighttimes spanning Christmas Eve through Saturday. The penetrating cold will raise the risk of unprotected pipes freezing. People who will be away from home are urged to take precautions to avoid busted pipes and water damage.
Temperatures may dip into the upper 30s around Orlando, Fla., by Christmas morning and are forecast to dip near the freezing mark by Saturday morning. The cold plunge down the Florida Peninsula could pose some risk to strawberries in the central counties of the state, but even areas as far south as Miami and Key West, Florida, will feel the chill. Saturday morning, temperatures could start off in the 40s and 50s in these areas, respectively.
"The arrival of cold air on the back side of the storm and front in the Appalachians and the eastern parts of the Tennessee and Ohio valleys as well as the lower Great Lakes region will be accompanied by a dramatic transition from rain to accumulating snow and then a freeze up," Anderson said.
Roads that were wet originally during the first part of the storm are likely to become slushy, snow-covered and icy in a matter of a few hours or less during Thursday and Thursday night. As the cold air arrives and gusty winds shift from south to west, sporadic power outages are possible from the Appalachians to the Midwest.
Forecasters strongly discourage travel during the rapid freeze-up Thursday afternoon to Thursday night as changing weather often brings the greatest challenges and most dangerous conditions to motorists.
A few inches of snow can fall on parts of Ohio, eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and the Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina, as well as much of western Pennsylvania and western New York state as the cold air catches up to the moisture from the storm.
As the storm departs and the Arctic air flows across the Great Lakes, bands of lake-effect snow will pick up and become intertwined with the storm's precipitation Christmas Day and even Saturday in parts of New York state. Where bands of snow linger for several hours, a foot or more of snow can pile up into the weekend.
The cold air will spill east of the Appalachians and into the mid-Atlantic during Christmas Day. New England is forecast to be the last region to experience the winter conditions during Friday night and Saturday.
In most cases, the combination of dry and colder air will just cause roads to dry off along the Eastern Seaboard. However, on Christmas Day and even this weekend, some of these eastern areas may still be reeling from the storm's high winds and flooding rain.
Flooding and power outages may linger beyond the storm's departure as colder air sweeps in, leaving potentially thousands of customers without heat.