Spring storm likely to unleash blizzard, high winds and flooding to parts of U.S.

Updated 4/8/2019 1:20 PM

For the second time this spring, a powerful, likely historic storm is set to rapidly strengthen in the Plains this week. Like its predecessor, the March "bomb cyclone," it is expected to generate blizzard conditions in some areas, heavy rain, thunderstorms, and flooding in others, along with a sprawling area of high winds.

Despite the calendar drifting deeper into April, the biggest story from this storm sequel might be the predicted heavy and wind-blasted snow from South Dakota to southern Minnesota and Wisconsin. But that's just part of the story.


To the south of the snow in the Great Plains, the potent winds may also whip up fires.

Severe thunderstorms are also a likely near the storm center in Kansas and Nebraska, as is additional flooding into the Upper Midwest affecting the Missouri and Mississippi River basins.

The storm rapidly takes shape Tuesday night as a frigid river of air 30,000 feet off the ground moves through the Rockies. Into Wednesday, it spills out over the open Plains, uncorking the cap on a volatile situation.

Pressure at the storm's center is expected to drop to 980 millibars or lower. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm. Compared to low pressure of 968 millibars associated with the bomb cyclone a few weeks ago in Colorado, this latest storm may be slightly less intense. But it's still about as low as pressure gets in the region this time of year.

This powerhouse low will spawn all sorts of significant weather. There are a few main stories to keep an eye on.

We're getting well into April now, but in parts of the Plains and Midwest it's about to look like midwinter. Not unheard of, but not typical.

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A large zone from Wyoming to southern Minnesota is already under a winter storm watch, including almost all of South Dakota into northern Nebraska. Much of that area is expecting at least 8 to 12 inches of snow, and some places could see up to two feet or so.

"Strong and gusty winds will likely result in blowing snow and perhaps blizzard conditions for some areas," wrote the Weather Prediction Center in its recent outlook for the storm.

While the forecast is still coming into focus, Minneapolis could see a historic April snowfall for a second straight year:

These intense and sprawling storm systems tend to deliver high wind over a large area. In addition to the blizzard risk on the north side, damaging winds are possible particularly to the south and west of the center.

Critical fire conditions should develop Tuesday in New Mexico, with a sizable fire risk expanding eastward. By Wednesday afternoon, the risk of extreme fire danger increases across the Southern Plains as the storm matures to the north.


"This pattern is noted for its association with southern Great Plains wildfire outbreaks," wrote the Storm Prediction Center.

While much of this area has seen vast improvement in drought conditions over the past year, it has been relatively dry in parts of the southern high Plains so far in 2019. Early spring is fire season there.

Widespread areas of winds blowing around 20 to 40 mph are likely in parts of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and some surrounding areas Wednesday. Damaging gusts of 50 to 60 mph or greater will also be possible. Gusty conditions of lesser intensity eventually translate east with the storm into the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley Thursday and Northeast by Friday.

Much of the precipitation with this system is expected to fall north of the low as snow. To the south, precipitation is generally light but may add up to a half inch or an inch in spots.

Some areas of southeast South Dakota, southern Minnesota and northern Iowa plus Nebraska may pick up as much as three inches or more of precipitation in the form of rain and snow. Fortunately, there is no real snow pack left there to melt underneath the additional precipitation anticipated, which made flooding considerably worse a few weeks ago.

Even so, any precipitation is too much for these areas of the Mississippi and Missouri river basins among others. Whatever falls as snow will melt fairly quick after the storm.

As one example of many spots still flooding, In Burlington, Iowa the Mississippi is at major flood stage and expected to rise somewhat into midweek.

Depending on how this new batch of water enters waterways, flooding may get worse in the days ahead, and it is expected to continue to be a long-term issue this spring in the nation's midsection.

Considering all of the other hazards with this storm, it is fortunate that moisture - which could fuel widespread severe thunderstorms - is relatively lacking for this system.

The moisture feed coming out of the Gulf of Mexico will be somewhat limited.

While the lower moisture content should mean that thunderstorms are not as widespread as they could be, any storms that form could mean business given the high-end wind shear and energy supplied by this strong low pressure system.

Right now, the Storm Prediction Center is monitoring parts of northeast Kansas and southeast Nebraska for the risk of severe storms on Wednesday. A few storms could deliver the threat of hail, strong winds, and tornadoes. On Thursday, severe weather may again erupt over parts of the Midwest as the storm heads east.

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