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Snow and Ice Batter Plains and Upper Midwest

A storm battering the Plains and Upper Midwest with heavy snow, strong winds and periods of freezing rain was expected to slowly move out of the region in the coming days and set the stage for a possible nor’easter Friday into Saturday.

The storm system on Tuesday created difficult-to-impossible travel conditions, scattered power outages, and harsh livestock conditions, according to the Weather Prediction Center. The harsh conditions across the Plains and Upper Midwest were expected to persist through the day Wednesday and well into Thursday.

Heavy snow and gusty winds are likely throughout the Northern Plains and into the Upper Midwest on Wednesday, creating the potential for travel difficulties with low-visibility and snow-covered roads, the prediction center said. Throughout the day, some of the area may see a wintry mix and a freezing rain accumulation of more than a quarter inch. The prediction center said that the storm would bring “bitterly cold wind chills” and temperatures throughout the region.

As the storm center slowly moves out of the Plains and into the Great Lakes region by Thursday night, it will spin off a secondary storm in the mid-Atlantic region. That sets the stage for a possible nor’easter Friday into Saturday.

The Northeast could see wintry weather and potentially heavy snowfall inland away from the coast, though the exact path of the storm there, and which communities could see rain or snow, is uncertain for now.

More than 8 million people across the region were under a winter weather advisory on Tuesday and about a half million people, in parts of Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming, were under a blizzard warning. More than two feet of snow fell overnight into Tuesday in parts of northern Utah, according to the National Weather Service.

More than a dozen states were affected by the storm system. A line of storms that moved across North Texas on Tuesday spawned at least two confirmed tornadoes, including one near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

The Northern and Central Plains to the Upper Midwest could see “multiple days of significant impacts to travel and infrastructure due to snow, blowing snow and freezing rain,” according to the Weather Service, which emphasized that “travel may become impossible” and warned that snow accumulations could reach 18 inches. More than two feet was possible in parts of South Dakota and Nebraska. Accumulating ice and gusty winds of 40 to 50 miles per hour were also possible.

“The greatest concern is where they are expecting blizzard conditions,” said David Roth, a forecaster with the service, adding that in regions with enough falling snow and high winds, visibility could be near zero. “These are conditions where you can walk out your front door and lose your house; you won’t see it anymore,” he said.

In a statement, the South Dakota Department of Transportation said it had closed a 200-mile stretch of Interstate 90 in both directions because of freezing rain, heavy snow and high winds. Tom Horan, a regional operations manger, said the department expected that the closure would continue overnight and would likely grow to include 300 miles of interstate.

Highways were also closed in Wyoming, where live webcams showed snowy conditions across the state, and in Nebraska, where officials warned that “many roads are impassible” and urged drivers to delay their travel: “Do not attempt to drive around gates or barricades!”

The snow was also piling up across the mountain west, allowing for multiple feet of fluffy powder in some locations.

Ski resort operators were celebrating. At Steamboat Ski Resort in northwestern Colorado, the snowfall helped usher in “one of the best early seasons most can remember,” said Loryn Duke, a spokeswoman. Nearly 40 inches of snow have piled up this month, she added, including about 12 inches in the last 24 hours.

In Iliff, Colo., northeast of Denver, Dakota McGee, a storm chaser, put on his ski jacket and thermals early Tuesday and headed out into blizzard and whiteout conditions, with temperatures hovering around 16 degrees with a wind chill of negative 2. Mr. McGee said he measured a wind gust of 51 m.p.h. with snow drifts of two to three feet.

“It’s pretty brutal to be outside. It will chill you to the bone,” Mr. McGee said. “Blowing snow was hitting my face. As a storm chaser, I’m used to it, but it’s pretty intense and hard to see things.”

Kim Henson, who has a small ranch in Harrisburg, Nebraska, said it was an “impressive” white out with strong gusts of wind making temperatures feel even more frigid. She said she had a few head of commercial beef cattle and six horses in her barn that she would be checking on regularly throughout the day.

Intense winter storms are “pretty typical” for Nebraska this time of year, Ms. Henson said, adding that people were welcoming respite from the ongoing drought in the state.

Storms capable of damaging winds and strong tornadoes are likely across parts of the South on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Storm Prediction Center said. At least two confirmed tornadoes hit North Texas early Tuesday.

The most likely place for tornadoes on Tuesday will be across northern and central Louisiana, including Baton Rouge and Shreveport, and into Mississippi, according to the Weather Service. By Wednesday, the threat moves east, likely affecting southern Louisiana and Alabama.

Damaging winds, hail and tornadoes will be a risk to more than 20 million people in eastern Texas and Oklahoma, all of Louisiana and parts of Arkansas and Mississippi.

Tornadoes are not uncommon this time of year, but they are less likely than in the spring and early summer.

Flash flooding is also a concern Tuesday from Houston up to the north of Memphis. The excessive rainfall from this storm will push east Wednesday, putting much of the South at risk for abundant rainfall that could produce flash flooding.

The heaviest rainfall is likely from Louisiana through north-central Mississippi and western Tennessee, the service said Monday.

Some snow fell across southern New England and upstate New York over the weekend, and the chances for snow will return this week as the major storm system across the U.S. spins off a coastal storm.

“The likely development of a nor’easter off the Mid-Atlantic coast brings a threat for wintry weather and potentially heavy snowfall across interior portions of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic,” the prediction center forecasters said Monday. The most reliable forecast computer models agree that a nor’easter will form from this storm system on Thursday in the Mid-Atlantic region, but show that the storm will track close to the shoreline. Inland areas will get cold enough and have the opportunity to see bountiful snow from this system.

When a storm system like this hugs close to the coast, it often pushes enough warm air off the water to keep major Northeast cities along the coast above freezing, which means cities like New York can most likely expect more of a rainy mess Thursday into Friday morning.

As with many forecasts, especially ones a few days away, the forecasters cautioned that there was still “plenty of uncertainty” about the storm’s path.

Source: The New York Times