Winter storm Cara to bring heavy snow to the West, ice in the Plains over Thanksgiving weekend

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Flood Threat Into the Weekend

By Weather.com staff

Winter Storm Cara has already dumped over a foot of snow in parts of the West and still has a mess of snow, sleet and freezing rain in store for the West and Plains that could snarl Thanksgiving holiday travel.

MORE: The Science of Naming Winter Storms

Numerous winter storm watches and warnings, as well as advisories are posted in the West from the northern Rockies to the Great Basin, Sierra and Tehachapis of California. Winter weather advisories and winter storm watches have also been issued across a large swath of the central and southern Plains from New Mexico to Iowa.

INTERACTIVE: Winter Alerts | Radar

Snow started to pile up on Tuesday across portions of the interior Northwest, Sierra Nevada and far northern Rockies. Some freezing rain was also reported in the Columbia Basin.

Bend, Oregon, reported 13-14 inches of new snow as of Tuesday night, with snowfall rates of 4 inches in 3 hours. This is quite impressive for this relatively dry plateau to the east of the Oregon Cascades, which only averages about 24 inches of snow each season. This heavy snow brought traffic to a standstill on U.S. 97 Tuesday night.

Up to a foot of snow in the Sierra snarled traffic on Interstate 80 over Donner Summit Tuesday, as well. Up to 15 inches of snow was reported at Sugar Bowl Resort just west of Truckee, California.

MORE: State-by-State Impacts

A cold front and accompanying upper-level storm system continues to carve into the Great Basin and Rockies, squeezing out snow with lowering snow levels. As we've seen already, snow may even accumulate on some valley floors.

This system will then direct its energy and moisture into the Plains starting Thanksgiving Day and continuing into much of the holiday weekend, bringing a mess of snow, sleet and freezing rain, not to mention heavy rain.

MORE: Thanksgiving Travel Forecast

As if this wasn't enough, strong arctic high-pressure will also move in allowing the first real blast of arctic air to surge into the U.S. The coldest air mass of the season to date is expected for the West and the Plains beginning Wednesday and lasting into the start of the weekend.

PHOTOS: Recent weather conditions across the US

16 PHOTOS
Recent weather across the U.S., November
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Winter storm Cara to bring heavy snow to the West, ice in the Plains over Thanksgiving weekend
SANTA ANA, CA., NOVEMBER 9, 2015: Sarad Lopez (cq) holds an umbrella while her mother shops on Fourth Steet in Santa Ana during a light rain November 9, 2015 (Mark Boster/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ANA, CA., NOVEMBER 9, 2015: Keisha Flores holds her umbrella while she shops on Fourth Steet in Santa Ana during a light rain November 9, 2015 (Mark Boster/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 06: A plane flys above the Tidal Basin on a warm evening November 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. Unseasonably warm weather in the Eastern U.S. has made the first few days of November feel more like late Summer. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Leaves change color on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, November 4, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 06: A woman rides a bicycle around the Tidal Basin on a warm evening November 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. Unseasonably warm weather in the Eastern U.S. has made the first few days of November feel more like late Summer. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People walk along Times Square in New York on November 6, 2015. New York recorded its hottest November 6 in nearly 70 years, as skaters splashed through puddles on a much-loved ice rink and commuters strolled around in T-shirts. AFP PHOTO/ JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman has an ice-cream on a cone as she walks along a street in New York on November 6, 2015. New York recorded its hottest November 6 in nearly 70 years, as skaters splashed through puddles on a much-loved ice rink and commuters strolled around in T-shirts. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 06: A helicopter flies above the Tidal Basin on a warm evening November 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. Unseasonably warm weather in the Eastern U.S. has made the first few days of November feel more like late Summer. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
JACKSON, MS - NOVEMBER 07: Volunteers exit the course after play was called due to inclement weather during a continuation of the second round of the Sanderson Farms Championship at The Country Club of Jackson on November 7, 2015 in Jackson, Mississippi. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIF. -- TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2015: Snow making in full force after a fall Sierra Nevada storm dropped nearly a foot of snow at Mammoth Mountain and less in town in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2015.(Photo by Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIF. -- TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2015: A bike rose rides through snow in town after a fall Sierra Nevada storm dropped nearly a foot of snow at Mammoth Mountain and less in town in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2015.(Photo by Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIF. -- TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2015: A fall Sierra Nevada storm dropped nearly a foot of snow at Mammoth Mountain and snowmaking is piling on in anticipation of a November 5 opening day in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2015.(Photo by Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 30: Residents of the Onion Creek neighborhood were evacuated in the morning October 30, 2015 in Austin, Texas. After Hurricane Patricia's passing last week, the region was hit with more torrential rain and possible tornadoes. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 30: Residents of the Onion Creek neighborhood were evacuated in the morning October 30, 2015 in Austin, Texas. After Hurricane Patricia's passing last week, the region was hit with more torrential rain and possible tornadoes. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 30: Residents of the Onion Creek neighborhood were evacuated in the morning October 30, 2015 in Austin, Texas. After Hurricane Patricia's passing last week, the region was hit with more torrential rain and possible tornadoes. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
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More Western Snow

Wednesday, snow, locally heavy in spots, will persist over parts of Wyoming, Utah, southern Idaho, southern Montana, southern Oregon, northern Nevada and the Sierra of California.

Blizzard warnings have been posted for portions of southern Wyoming as stronger winds accompanying the snow and arctic cold front could lead to areas reduced visibility in blowing and drifting snow. This is particularly of concern over ridgetops and mountain passes.

By Thursday, the western snow should be reduced to some lingering pockets over the high country of Colorado and the adjacent High Plains westward into northern Utah and northeast Nevada.

MAPS: Weekly Planner

The heaviest additional snow totals in the West will be in higher elevations of the northern Rockies, Wasatch, Great Basin and Sierra, where a foot of total snow or more is possible.

Snow levels in the Sierra are expected to drop to 2,000 feet, with up to 18 inches of snow possible in the higher elevations.

Snow levels will remain low through the West, with accumulating snow expected in more populated areas compared to the last few winter storms, including parts of the Snake River Valley of Idaho, the plateau and deserts of the eastern two-thirds of Oregon and northern Nevada.

For those traveling for Thanksgiving, be ready for winter driving conditions on Interstate 15 in Utah, Idaho, and Montana; Interstate 80 in parts of California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming; Interstate 84 from north of Salt Lake City into Idaho and Oregon; Interstate 90 in Montana; and Interstate 70 in Colorado.

FORECAST: Boise | Missoula | Salt Lake City

A Plains Ice Storm?

Arctic cold air will also plunge south into the Plains Wednesday through Friday, setting the stage for a wintry mess of snow, sleet and freezing rain just in time for Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the rest of the holiday weekend.

High temperatures in the Plains will be up to 30 degrees colder than average beginning Thanksgiving and persisting into Saturday.

FORECAST: Rapid City, South Dakota | Oklahoma City

By cold we mean daytime high temperatures in parts of the central and southern Plains holding in the 20s or 30s spreading south from Thanksgiving Day into Saturday.

In some areas, they may not rise above freezing. Thus, the threat of frozen precipitation.

Check out the average daily minimum temperatures:

An upper-level low is becoming cut off from the jet stream over the Great Basin, tapping Gulf of Mexico moisture into the Plains.

This moist air will be lifted over the cold shallow airmass leading to a mixture of freezing rain, sleet and snow, at times, from Thanksgiving through the weekend, from the southern High Plains to the Missouri Valley and northern Great Lakes.

This may come in two waves, one Thanksgiving Day into Friday, and another spreading farther north Saturday perhaps into Sunday.

MAPS: Weekly Planner

The threat of freezing rain and sleet is highest from parts of Iowa and Nebraska into northern and western Kansas, the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and northeast New Mexico.

MORE: Ice Accumulations and Impacts

Despite recent warmth, and warmer early-season ground temperatures, the arriving arctic air mass would allow for some ice accumulations on roads, trees and powerlines. Here are the expected level of impacts from the ice:

  • Most roads will become icy and hazardous. The first to ice up will be untreated roads, bridges and overpasses.
  • Furthermore, precipitation may begin as rain in some of these areas, followed by the arctic front, which could cause flash freezing on roads, even before freezing precipitation begins.
  • In a few areas, some limbs or trees may break, and some power outages may result.
  • However, we do not expect the level of ice accumulation and wind to produce widespread downed trees or widespread multi-day power outages.

This is partly due to the potential for precipitation types to change from freezing rain to sleet, perhaps to snow, rather than many hours of freezing rain over a large area.

FORECAST: Amarillo | Omaha

For now, any snowfall amounts from the Plains to the Upper Midwest and northern Great Lakes are expected to be light to moderate. (Translation: It may be wet snow, but widespread 6-inch-plus amounts, as from Winter Storm Bella last weekend, are not expected).

The best chance for at least 6 inches of snow will be over the southern High Plains from southeast Colorado into western Kansas, northeast New Mexico and parts of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.

This snow could also cause travel headaches both Thanksgiving Day into Black Friday, then again this weekend.

FORECAST: Sioux Falls | Marquette

If that wasn't enough, ahead of the cold front, rain and thunderstorms are expected and locally heavy rainfall may bring the threat of flash flooding from Texas to the Midwest.

Arctic Blast

The upper-level trough, or southward dip in the jet stream, will dive across the West and combined with a strong area of high pressure from Canada, the result will be the first blast of arctic air arriving in the West and Plains.

Low temperatures will be up to 25 degrees below average in interior portions of the Pacific Northwest and Rockies Thursday and Friday mornings.

Overnight lows will range from single digits to well below zero in the northern and central Rockies beginning Thursday morning and lasting until Saturday morning.

This will lead to the coldest temperatures so far this season for many areas. A couple of examples include Helena, Montana, where the lowest temperature recorded so far this season is 14 degrees on Nov. 21; lows there are expected to drop to around zero this week. Reno, Nevada has seen the mercury drop as low as 21 degrees on Nov. 11; lows in the upper teens or low 20s are in the forecast late this week or this weekend.

Temperatures are expected to drop into the upper 30s at the San Francisco International Airport late this week, and a new daily record low may be threatened on Friday morning (current record is 37 degrees).

FORECAST: Great Falls, Montana | Casper, Wyoming | Denver

Wind chills may plummet between to the teens or 20s below zero in parts of western Wyoming Thursday night.

High temperatures will remain very cold as well. Highs will be 10 to 30 degrees colder than what is normally expected for the end of November over parts of the West Wednesday through Friday. Highs will only reach the teens and 20s in parts of the Rockies, with 30s and 40s for the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin.

Check back for updates and the latest information on Winter Storm Cara. By the way, Cara (CAH-ruh) is Latin meaning beloved.

PHOTOS: Snow, winter weather so far across the U.S.

21 PHOTOS
Snow, winter weather 2015-2016 season across the U.S.
See Gallery
Winter storm Cara to bring heavy snow to the West, ice in the Plains over Thanksgiving weekend
LUBBOCK, TEXAS - DECEMBER 27: A highway worker tries to shield himself while walking to his truck on December 27, 2015 in Lubbock, Texas. Coming on the heels of several strong tornadoes, some northern parts of Texas are experiencing blizzard conditions with wind gusts up to 50 mph and as much as 13 inches of snow forecast. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
NEDERLAND, CO - DECEMBER 15: Steve Hauser plows snow in the Caribou Shopping Center in Nederland, Colorado on December 15, 2015. Snow is expected to continue throughout the day. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
NEDERLAND, CO - DECEMBER 15: A yellow lab waits patiently in his owner's snowy old truck along East 1st Street in Nederland, Colorado on December 15, 2015. Snow is expected to continue throughout the day. The dog looked warm and didn't wait long in the car as his owner returned shortly after an errand in the town. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DEC. 15: Anna Renton, 7, right, relaxes while neighbor Graham Langner, 7, has a snow fight with his nanny, Ashely Kish.The Denver metro area received more snow than expected overnight, closing schools across the city with some areas measuring a foot of snow by the early morning. (Photo by Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LAKEWOOD, CO - DECEMBER 15: Crut Liles clears snow from his walkways outside his home in Lakewood, December, 15, 2015. Many schools in the area are closed due to the snow storm. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DEC. 15: A CDOT crew runs their plow truck southbound on Colorado Blvd. near E. 13th Ave. in Denver. The Denver metro area received more snow than expected overnight, closing schools across the city with some areas measuring a foot of snow by the early morning. (Photo by Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Al Frelk walks his dog, Shiba, 10, in Lords Park in Elgin, Ill., on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. Asked about the snow, Frelk said, 'It's beautiful, but can be tough to drive in. Though Shiba has been waiting 9 months for this.' The first winter storm of the season dropped more than 10 inches of snow at numerous Chicagoland locations. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 17: Snow hit the Denver metro area having an impact on air travel at Denver International Airport. They were clearing out from the snow on Tuesday, November 17, 2015. Raul Hernandez shovels snow in the economy lot. Hernandez and his crew had worked all night to clear snow. (Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LAKEWOOD, CO - NOVEMBER 11: Brandon Nelli, a student at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, shovels snow during a Veteran's Day snow storm the moved into the area overnight, November, 11, 2015. Lakewood got almost 3 inches in some areas form the storm. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 11: A blanket of white snow covers Fort Logan National Cemetery during a Veteran's Day snow storm the moved into the area overnight, November, 11, 2015. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
MONUMENT, CO. - November 17: Bob Swift clearing his driveway of a deep drift of snow in Monument, CO. November 17, 2015 Monument, CO (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
An above-average amount of snow covers a small cabin near where the first snow survey of winter conducted by the California Department of Water Resources in Phillips, California December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
Cameron Shonnard backflips a jump at Squaw Valley in Olympic Valley, California, December 5, 2015. An El Nino is forecasted for California, and regular precipitation has been welcomed after years of drought. REUTERS/Max Whittaker TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Fresh snow clings to trees near Big Bend, California, December 4, 2015. An El Nino is forecasted for California, and regular precipitation has been welcomed after years of drought. Picture taken December 4. REUTERS/Max Whittaker
The U.S. Capitol dome can be seen behind piles of snow removed from parking areas and walkways around the Capitol grounds in Washington January 26, 2016. The snowbound Washington area was resuming partial business on Tuesday as trains and buses restarted near-normal service, while federal offices remained closed following a massive blizzard that hammered the U.S. East Coast. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Floodwaters cover Green Avenue after a winter storm in Manasquan, New Jersey, January 24, 2016. A morning high tide surge of 2 feet followed snowfall of about 2 feet in the first major storm of the season. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter
A couple poses for a photo on a snow pile during a snow storm in Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York, January 23, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, UNITED STATES - 2016/02/15: Snow is once again falling across Washington, D.C on Monday, 15 February 2016. The bitter cold was replaced by snow, sleet and rain Monday in the mid-Atlantic states and the South, but many residents were able to hunker down at home with federal offices and many businesses closed for Washington's Birthday. (Photo by Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A barn painted with the U.S. flag is seen in the snow covered field in Kanawha, Iowa, United States, January 16, 2016. Iowa will be the first state to hold its primary, with both Democratic and Republican events being held February 1, 2016. Picture taken January 16, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Police officers gather outside the Montgomery County Courthouse, where actor and comedian Bill Cosby will arrive for a preliminary hearing on sexual assault charges, in Norristown, Pennsylvania February 2, 2016. Cosby has been charged with the 2004 sexual assault of Andrea Constand, a former women's basketball team manager at Temple University in Philadelphia, Cosby's alma mater. REUTERS/Mark Makela REUTERS/Mark Makela
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