Christmas holiday travel disruptions may unfold for central, eastern US

As frigid air plunges into and builds over the central United States, a stormy pattern with snow, ice and rain may unfold from Texas to Maine for Christmas holiday travelers.

During a typical winter, this weather pattern can bring a storm and travel concerns once every five to seven days.

However, with the pattern anticipated from Dec. 21 to Dec. 26, there is the potential for three storms that may be disruptive to travel in areas from the Rockies and southern Plains to the Midwest and Northeast states. 

"The key to which areas stand the best chance of snow and/or ice will be dependent on how far to the south and east frigid air pushes out from the North Central states," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

The first storm and its snow will primarily be a concern from the northern Rockies to the Upper Midwest later this week.

In the wake of this storm, just enough cold air may settle from parts of the southern Plains to part of the Ohio Valley to set up a zone of snow and ice as a new storm springs up around Friday, Dec. 22. 

Meanwhile, most areas along the Atlantic Seaboard can expect temperatures to average near to above normal much of this week. An exception may be northern New England at midweek.

Since cold air will not be established in time for the arrival of precipitation, most travelers in the Northeast will likely have to deal with delays associated with rain, fog and a low cloud ceiling around Saturday, Dec. 23. Some pockets of ice and snow are possible over parts of the northern Appalachians.

"We have concerns for another storm to spring up from the Southwest between Dec. 24 and Christmas Day," Doll said.

"The track of that storm will determine which areas would get rain and which areas might get snow and ice." 

One scenario holds the cold air back over the Midwest and the other scenario brings the cold air right to the coastal Northeast ahead of the next storm around Christmas Day.

If the cold air presses farther to the east, then the Upper Midwest might just be generally dry with areas of lake-effect snow. Snow and ice may be a concern for the Northeast.

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"However, if the cold air is held back, any storm near Christmas would likely bring a rainy scenario for much of the Northeast and snow and/or ice problems for the Midwest," Doll said.

A prime area of concern for snow and ice may be centered on the central and southern Plains to the middle Mississippi Valley.

A third scenario would bring so much cold air eastward that all of the Midwest and Northeast would trend dry and colder, aside from traditional bands of lake-effect snow. In this third scenario, some snow and ice may make another visit to parts of the Deep South.

Farther ahead, toward the days surrounding the New Year holiday, the same issues with the spread of cold air versus frequency of storms will continue.

2017 winter weather predictions
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2017 winter weather predictions

This year's Farmer's Almanac predicts less precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and Upper Midwest, but other areas might not be so lucky ...


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted La Nina will potentially emerge this winter season, bringing with it above-average precipitation and below-average cold temperatures.


But if La Nina does hit, it will impact each U.S. area in a different way ...

For example, the Rockies would likely be rocked with abundant snowfall, while the Midwest would be plagued with blasts of cold air.


Another more wonky model from Atmospheric and Environmental Research predicts that colder temperatures could hit the East Coast if there is a stratospheric polar vortex disruption.

Changes in the jet stream have a direct impact on weather patterns, and in the earliest days of December Americans could see a cold front and snow in the Plains and upper Great Lakes.

Averaging 44 inches of snow each winter, Boston is known to get slammed with tough weather. This year, NOAA predicts the historic city will see within 10 inches of that average.

Meanwhile, the magnitude of the cold air forecast to settle over the Central states may pose a problem for travelers.

Motorists venturing anywhere in the swath from the interior Northwest to the central and northern Plains should make sure their vehicle can handle severe cold weather and they have packed blankets and warm clothes.

Most of the storms with precipitation will bypass coastal areas of California. However, trouble with periodic strong winds fanning the flames of existing wildfires will likely continue into the start of 2018.

AccuWeather will continue to provide updates on the potentially hazardous travel weather pattern in the coming days.

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