AccuWeather forecasters are continuing to track the potential for a storm to impact Americans hitting the roads and skies early to beat the Thanksgiving travel rush next Wednesday.
The biggest impact from the gathering storm will be the strong winds associated with it, but heavy snow and drenching rains are also on the pre-Thanksgiving menu.
The major weather maker that's threatening to throw a wrench in early travel plans is an upper-level disturbance that was way out over southern Alaska as of Thursday. AccuWeather meteorologists expect that potent piece of energy to dive down over American airspace as it moves to the east and then develops into a winter storm over the Midwest this weekend.
Farther east, a stretch of the Interstate 95 corridor, including cities from Washington, D.C., to New York City, are likely to be spared the worst of the upcoming stormy pattern. However, rainfall may cause localized travel slowdowns on Monday and lingering wind could disrupt air travel and cause hazards for motorists in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.
Boston and areas farther north will not be so lucky, and the storm may evolve to the point that it's capable of unleashing drenching rain and perhaps even some snowflakes. Areas across the interior from upstate New York to northern New England could face a dose of disruptive winter weather.
Overall, though, gusty winds are anticipated to cause the most widespread travel issues, especially for airline passengers.
As the winter storm arrives across the Midwest and strengthens, strong winds will develop from the Dakotas to Minnesota on Sunday and then spread southeastward across the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley on Sunday night and Monday. West to northwest wind gusts frequenting 35-50 mph are likely in Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and Cincinnati, with locally higher gusts possible in open areas, between buildings and over high bridges in the region.
Wind gusts of up to 70 mph are anticipated along some of the southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes, as well as the mountains of West Virginia on Monday. In these areas, the winds could not only disrupt travel but could become locally damaging.
The gusts and associated turbulence could be significant enough to cause flight delays and lead to the risk of cancellations at some of the major and secondary airport hubs. Any ripple effect of delays or cancelations caused by those high winds could linger into Wednesday, a day on which AAA is projecting some 4.2 Americans will be traveling by air.
As a cold front associated with the storm pivots southeastward, a narrow zone of rain that can bring downpours and potentially hinder travel on the highway for a brief time will swing from the Central states on Sunday to much of the Eastern Seaboard on Monday.
The heaviest rain, with amounts expected to range from 0.50 of an inch to 1 inch, is likely to fall on portions of the Ohio and Tennessee valleys to the Appalachians. Much of that rain may fall over the course of a few hours and can lead to ponding on roads that drain poorly.
Colder air will rush in behind the system across the Great Lakes, triggering lake-effect snow to develop from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to portions of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan and northwestern Indiana from Sunday night to Monday night. A general 2-4 inches of snow is likely to fall in these areas with areas of slush on the roads, but in places where bands of snow manage to persist for multiple hours, a foot of snow can pile up, which could cause serious travel disruptions.
Gusty winds may accompany rainfall and create brief episodes of poor visibility and slick conditions on the highways in the mid-Atlantic on Monday. In New England, where more Atlantic moisture is likely to come into play, the amount of rain is expected to increase and make a more substantial impact on the highways likely.
If the weather setup were to just allow a single storm to form and cycle through, that would be the end of the travel impacts leading up to Thanksgiving in the Midwest and Northeast. However, the pattern will literally get a second wind as another storm forms and strengthens near coastal areas of the mid-Atlantic and New England from Tuesday to Wednesday.
A heavy, wind-driven rain is in store for eastern New England, particularly centered over Maine, Monday night into Tuesday. Disruptive rain and the potential for urban flooding may impact eastern Massachusetts as well.
Meanwhile, the coldest air of the season so far will quickly arrive in the East from Monday into Tuesday, according to AccuWeather chief meteorologist Jon Porter. That cold air will lead to winter mischief in some areas, including some snow for communities outside of the reach of lake-effect snowfall.
He added that the combination of wind and other conditions will make it feel colder than the actual temperature. Actual temperatures are forecast to dip to 22 in Chicago on Tuesday morning and to 32 in New York City Wednesday morning. Both of those readings would be the lowest temperatures of the season so far.
Along with the colder air, there is the possibility for several inches of snow to fall over the higher elevations of the West Virginia mountains and south-central Pennsylvania as well as northeastern New York state, Vermont and New Hampshire from later Tuesday to early Wednesday. As temperatures dip to near freezing in these areas, slippery travel is likely to develop on untreated stretches of roads. Snow accumulations in these areas will depend on how close to the coast the secondary storm forms and tracks. A track just offshore may bring only a small amount of snow, while a track that loops farther to the west bringing the storm into New England can bring more significant snow.
Lake-effect snow will likely become intertwined with the snow from the secondary coastal storm in portions of western Pennsylvania, western New York state and northeastern Ohio, where a few inches can accumulate in general and a foot of snow can pile up in isolated areas from Tuesday to Wednesday.
Depending on exactly how the second storm tracks, there may even be a narrow band of wet snow that develops in central New England and that could move toward Boston on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. Since temperatures are likely to remain above freezing during that time frame, roads are likely to be mainly wet with the potential for a few slushy spots.
A more far-reaching factor with the secondary storm, just as the storm from the Midwest, will be gusty winds. Gusts from the west and northwest will average 35-50 mph but can peak even higher.
Just as in the Midwest, the gusty crosswinds and turbulence can lead to airline delays and potentially some flight cancelations. Impacts from wind are likely to spread from the major hubs of Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Washington, D.C., Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on Tuesday to New York City and Boston during Tuesday night and Wednesday. Secondary hubs can also be adversely affected by gusty winds.
One other aspect of holiday travel is many Americans will be leaving home for several days, and weather conditions will be changing over that time. AccuWeather forecasters caution that people in the Midwest and Northeast are not the only ones who should prep their homes for cold weather prior to leaving for the holiday.
Those over the interior Southeast states who are venturing away from home for a Thanksgiving break should be aware of the risk of freezing nighttime temperatures in some areas beginning Monday night and potentially persisting through the middle of next week.
For example, low temperatures are forecast to plummet into the mid-20s Monday night and Tuesday night in Charlotte. Exposure to the cold air in unheated locations, such as in crawl spaces, can lead to frozen pipes. Property owners are urged to take precautions to avoid water damage and prevent pipes from bursting.