Christmas travel outlook: Icy, dangerous conditions may unfold in central, northeastern US

There is the potential for a 2,200-mile-long stretch of unsettled weather and travel disruptions to set up in the central to eastern United States in the days surrounding Christmas.

"There are signs of a bad holiday season for traveling by car or air from the Rockies to parts of Plains, Midwest and Northeast during this period," according to AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok.

Weather-related airline delays may develop on multiple occasions stemming from several major airport hubs. Motorists may face wintry road conditions along vast stretches of interstate highways.

Where will the storms track?

Following two surges of milder air in the Midwest and Northeast during the week before Christmas, a temperature contrast zone will set up from the southern Plains to New England.

Much colder air will settle southward to the southern Plains, the Midwest and New England during the weekend before Christmas. Meanwhile, warmth will hold and may even build in the Southeastern states.

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Trump family hosts first White House Christmas Tree Lighting
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Trump family hosts first White House Christmas Tree Lighting
US President Donald Trump, speaks with US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke during the 95th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the Ellipse in President's Park near the White House in Washington, DC on November 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump participate in the National Christmas Tree Lighting and Pageant of Peace ceremony on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington, U.S., November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. first lady Melania Trump, with U.S. President Donald Trump and hosts Dean Cain (L) and Kathie Lee Gifford (2nd L), reacts after she pressed the button to light the tree during the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony near the White House in Washington, U.S. November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting and Pageant of Peace ceremony on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington, U.S., November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump arrive with their children at the 95th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting on the Ellipse November 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30: (L-R) Tiffany Trump, Ivanka Trump and Theodore Trump attend the 95th Annual National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in President's Park on November 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)
Tiffany Trump (L) smiles next to Senior Advisor to the President, Jared Kushner, before the arrival of US President Donald Trump for the 95th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the Ellipse in President's Park near the White House in Washington, DC on November 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump Jr. smiles as he waits for the arrival of US President Donald Trump before the 95th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the Ellipse in President's Park near the White House in Washington, DC on November 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, seated with his wife White House senior advisor Ivanka Trump and their children, looks over at U.S. President Donald Trump as he bows his head during the prayer at the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony near the White House in Washington, U.S. November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting and Pageant of Peace ceremony on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington, U.S., November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
US President Donald Trump (R) claps next to First Lady Melania Trump (2R) during the 95th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the Ellipse in President's Park near the White House in Washington, DC on November 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30: U.S. President Donald Trump participates in the 95th annual national Christmas tree lighting ceremony held by the National Park Service on the Ellipse near the White House on November 30, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30: President Donald Trump and the first lady Melania Trump attend the 95th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting held by the National Park Service at the White House Ellipse in Washington, D.C., November 30, 2017. The Beach Boys, Wynonna, The Texas Tenors, Craig Campbell were among the artists who provided the entertainment. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30: President Donald Trump and the first lady Melania Trump attend the 95th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting held by the National Park Service at the White House Ellipse in Washington, D.C., November 30, 2017. The Beach Boys, Wynonna, The Texas Tenors, Craig Campbell were among the artists who provided the entertainment. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)
Wynonna Judd performs during the 95th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the Ellipse in President's Park near the White House in Washington, DC on November 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Kathie Lee Gifford (R) and Dean Cain host the 95th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the Ellipse in President's Park near the White House in Washington, DC on November 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump walk off the stage during the 95th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at the Ellipse in President's Park near the White House in Washington, DC on November 30, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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Storms will move from southwest to northeast along the temperature battle line.

How cold the air becomes in the swath from Texas to Missouri and Maine will determine the extent of frozen versus liquid precipitation.

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As many as a half a dozen storms of varying intensity may be ejected during the period from the Southwest states from Dec. 22 to Jan. 2.

Exactly how far to the northwest or southeast freezing air will settle each day will depend on the track of each storm.

As each storm moves northeastward, some colder air will seep southward and could pave the way for some snow and/or ice from the next storm, where the preceding storm may have delivered only rain.

Should a shallow layer of cold air develop close to the ground, as opposed to a thick layer of cold air through the atmosphere, ice may be the primary form of precipitation in an extensive swath during one or multiple rounds.

The exact location of wintry weather will become more clear later next week just ahead of the first storms.

Travel conditions likely to deteriorate during the weekend before Christmas

Much to the delight of skiers, snow will gather over the central and southern Rockies late next week and during the weekend before Christmas. Around the same time, rain will gather over the area from the southern Plains to the Tennessee Valley.

This batch of moisture will then stream northeastward closer to Christmas.

"At this time, we think that rain is most likely for much of the mid-Atlantic to southern New England with the storm(s) spanning Dec. 24 to 28," Pastelok said. "However, as cold air sinks southward, some snow and ice are likely from parts of northern New England to the Ohio Valley and southern Plains."

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Severe weather in the US 2017 -- tornadoes, snowstorms, flooding, hail
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Severe weather in the US 2017 -- tornadoes, snowstorms, flooding, hail
Abdel Salah, the owner of Sam's Food and Liquor Store surveys damage after a series of tornados tore through in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Depp
Heavy thunderstorm clouds fill the sky over Center City Philadelphia, PA, on Feb. 25, 2017. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Residents clear their cars and street of snow in Weehawken, New Jersey, as the One World Trade Center and lower Manhattan are seen after a snowstorm in New York, U.S. March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
PERRYVILLE, MO - MARCH 01: A utility pole was downed during last night's tornado on March 1, 2017 in Perryville, Missouri. At least one person was killed when the tornado crossed interstate 55. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Birds sit on some branches in Central Park in New York on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella dumped sleet and snow across the northeastern United States on Tuesday but spared New York from the worst after authorities cancelled thousands of flights and shut schools. Blizzard warnings were in effect in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and upstate New York, but were lifted for New York City, the US financial capital home to 8.4 million residents, where snow turned to sleet, hail and rain. / AFP PHOTO / Eric BARADAT (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
PERRYVILLE, MO - MARCH 01: A house along Pcr 906 is destroyed after last night's tornado on March 1, 2017 in Perryville, Missouri. At least one person was killed when the tornado crossed interstate 55. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Heavy thunderstorm clouds fill the sky over Center City Philadelphia, PA, on Feb. 25, 2017. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
PERRYVILLE, MO - MARCH 01: A shed for farm equipment on Pcr 906 collapsed and metal sheeting was tangled in trees after last night's tornado, on March 1, 2017 in Perryville, Missouri. At least one person was killed when the tornado crossed interstate 55. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
PERRYVILLE, MO - MARCH 01: A house and garage were destroyed on Hwy V after last night's tornado on March 1, 2017 in Perryville, Missouri. At least one person was killed when the tornado crossed interstate 55. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
A resident clears the street of snow in Weehawken, New Jersey, as the Empire State Building and Middle Manhattan are seen after a snowstorm in New York, U.S. March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Debris covers a street in New Orleans East after a series of tornados tore through New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, leaving trees, power lines and homes and businesses leveled, in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Depp
Tien Nguyen cleans up debris in "Q" Nail studio on Chef Menteur highway which he and his wife own, they survived the tornado by sheltering in the bathroom, a tornados tore through New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, leaving trees, power lines and homes and businesses leveled, in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Depp
Two snowmen sit in Central Park in New York on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella dumped sleet and snow across the northeastern United States on Tuesday but spared New York from the worst after authorities cancelled thousands of flights and shut schools. Blizzard warnings were in effect in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and upstate New York, but were lifted for New York City, the US financial capital home to 8.4 million residents, where snow turned to sleet, hail and rain. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Trailers lie on their sides behind a Procter and Gamble warehouse after a tornado ripped through the area on Sunday in Albany, Georgia, U.S. January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tami Chappell
A snowplow clears snow in Times Square during a snowstorm in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
A gas sign from a gas station sits in a tree nearby after a tornado ripped through the area on Sunday in Albany, Georgia, U.S. January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tami Chappell
Friends used there snow day to go sledding on a hill at 47th street northwest and Massachusetts Avenue in Washington on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella dumped sleet and snow across the northeastern United States on Tuesday but spared New York from the worst after authorities cancelled thousands of flights and shut schools. Blizzard warnings were in effect in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and upstate New York, but were lifted for New York City, the US financial capital home to 8.4 million residents, where snow turned to sleet, hail and rain. / AFP PHOTO / Tasos Katopodis (Photo credit should read TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A police car pushes a cab stuck on a snow and sleet-covered street in New York on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella dumped sleet and snow across the northeastern United States on Tuesday but spared New York from the worst after authorities cancelled thousands of flights and shut schools. Blizzard warnings were in effect in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and upstate New York, but were lifted for New York City, the US financial capital home to 8.4 million residents, where snow turned to sleet, hail and rain. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
The Rustic Barn, an event hall, which suffered major tornado damage, is seen from an unmanned aerial vehicle in Canton, Texas, April 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brandon Wade TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Homeowners clean up debris after a tornado hit the town of Emory, Texas, U.S. April 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brandon Wade
Homes are severely damaged after a tornado hit the town of Emory, Texas, U.S. April 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brandon Wade
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Pacific coast to endure weather-related travel troubles

From the weekend before Christmas to New Year's Day, most storms will occur well inland of the Pacific coast states.

However, one or two storms may come calling during that period. The strongest and most disruptive of these may occur toward the end of 2017.

That storm has the potential to bring the most significant rainfall in months to Southern California. Snow will fall over the passes from Washington to Northern California.

There will be opportunities for safe travel in between the storms.

Gusty winds may also cause travel disruptions over the mountains in the Southwest.

Ongoing trouble is likely for firefighters due to rounds of gusty winds ahead of any end-of-the-year rain.

AccuWeather will continue to provide updates on areas of snow, ice, rain and travel conditions through the holidays.

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