Extreme storm in central U.S. may generate blizzard, flooding, severe storms midweek

Updated 3/12/2019 12:24 PM

An unusually strong late-winter storm is predicted to explosively intensify in the western Plains on Tuesday into Wednesday, unleashing flooding rains, severe storms, howling winds and blizzard conditions in the middle of the nation.

The zone from Texas north through the Dakotas and Minnesota will probably be hit the hardest.


Roaring, potentially damaging winds will affect an enormous area. High-wind watches have been posted from southeastern New Mexico through Nebraska. Gusts are expected to reach 60 mph late Tuesday into Wednesday, and up to 80 to 90 mph in the high terrain.

"Models remain consistent developing one of the more dynamic systems I have seen in quite some time for Kansas" midweek, wrote a forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Wichita. The forecaster explained that the weather variables simulated for the storm are statistically unusual - three to five standard deviations from average.

"Typically when we see values of three standardized anomalies we are near records, therefore this weather system has potential to produce something more rare," the forecaster wrote.

As it sweeps across Kansas, the system could challenge low-pressure records for the region if model simulations are correct. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm.

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The storm will be born from a disturbance over the Pacific Ocean, coming ashore in northern Mexico on Monday night. It is then predicted to ride along the U.S.-Mexico border, ejecting from the desert southwest into eastern Colorado and western Kansas Tuesday into Wednesday.

"As powerful Plains storm reaches maximum intensity or lowest pressure, it will have an 'eye like' feature similar to a hurricane," tweeted Ryan Maue, meteorologist for Weathermodels.com. "The strongest nontropical storms like the 'bomb cyclone' from last winter develop clear areas at center similar to tropical systems."

Indeed, the European model predicts that the storm's central pressure will drop to around 970 millibars, which is equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane.

In addition to its raging winds, the storm will generate heavy precipitation - both rain and snow, depending on location.

- Snow threat

Blizzard conditions may develop on the storm's cold side in the western and northern Plains on Wednesday into Thursday, including northeast Colorado, southeast Wyoming, western Nebraska, the Dakotas and northwest Minnesota. Winter storm watches are in place for a large part of this region, including in Denver; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Pierre, South Dakota, and will probably be expanded northward.


More than half a foot of snow and wind gusts exceeding 50 mph could create whiteout conditions in this zone.

"Severe blizzard conditions are expected in some areas," the Weather Service warned.

- Flooding threat

In the storm's warm sector, a generalized heavy rainfall capable of causing flooding is a threat from Kansas to western Wisconsin late Tuesday night through Wednesday. One to three inches of rain are predicted to fall on top of saturated soils.

In addition, from Nebraska to Minnesota and Wisconsin, the combination of heavy rain and thawing snow and ice could lead to ice jams on area rivers.

- Severe storm threat

Severe thunderstorms, capable of producing damaging winds and hail, are a concern along the storm's southern flank from Texas to the mid-South. The threat will progress from west to east late Tuesday into Wednesday.

From eastern New Mexico to western Oklahoma, "severe gusts" are possible in storms firing up late Tuesday afternoon before "maximizing" after dark, according to the Weather Service.

On Wednesday, the risk of severe storms shifts more to the mid-South from East Texas through Arkansas into western Tennessee.

- After Wednesday

Although the storm peaks in intensity Wednesday, it is forecast to produce a swath of strong winds in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes on Wednesday night into Thursday as it cuts through southeast Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Thursday into Thursday night, showers and storms should cut across the South, but few should be severe. On the north side, rain showers will scatter across the eastern Great Lakes, changing to snow over the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and northern Minnesota.

By Friday, it will be weakening as it barrels into northeastern Canada, dragging a cold front across the eastern United States with showers along the Interstate 95 corridor.


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