March 12, 2019

Unusually Intense Storm Set To Bring Every Type Of Weather To Central U.S. This Week

Would you like some weather? Here, have much weather!

A low-pressure system developing over the central Plains will grow into quite the storm over the next couple of days. Latest forecasts indicate that the low could bottom-out with a minimum central pressure around 974 mb, which could break all-time minimum low pressure records in some areas. Low-pressure systems don't typically get that deep until they're much farther north or east.

This storm is the result of a sharp trough moving across the Rockies and perfectly placed jet stream in the upper levels of the atmosphere. The combined lift from the trough and the jet stream will allow the low to develop fast and strengthen even faster. Models and forecasts both show the storm developing into quite the sight on satellite imagery, so expect tons of satellite shots to cross your social feeds over the next couple of days.

The center of the country will run the entire gamut of hazardous weather over the next couple of days, spanning from dangerous severe thunderstorms over in the south to a raging blizzard in Nebraska and the Dakotas. Heavy rain and quick snowmelt could also lead to significant flooding along some waterways in the Midwest.

Record Low Air Pressures?

Several weather stations in the southern Plains could come perilously close to their all-time record low air pressure readings when the center of this low-pressure system moves overhead. It's common for lows to form in this part of the country and strengthen as they move north and east toward the Great Lakes. But the depth of the trough crossing the Rockies today will allow the low to ramp up over southeastern Colorado and southwestern Kansas, areas not usually traversed by such a dynamic storm.


David Roth over at the WPC has a fantastic page showing maps of all the record high/low air pressure readings from across the country. The black map above shows the all-time record lows across the contiguous United States. The Gulf and Atlantic coasts stand out for their exceptionally low pressure records set during major hurricanes. (Add a '9' to the reading to get the air pressure—743, for instance, is 974.3 mb.)

Minimum air pressure records for much of the southern Plains are in the same range. The all-time record low pressure in Dodge City, Kansas, is 974.9 mb, and it's 973.6 mb in Hays, Kansas. Depending on the exact strength and track of the low, a few of these all-time low pressure records could fall.


Weather records like this are nice for weather geeks, but what practical effect do they have? This is going to be a sprawling, high-impact storm for the center of the country.


A strong low-pressure system wrapping up across hundreds of miles of flat terrain is a recipe for strong winds. High wind warnings and wind advisories are in effect for the next couple of days as the storm develops and moves through the region. The strongest winds are likely across the western Plains, where wind gusts up to 70 MPH could lead to structural damage, downed trees, and power outages.

Dakotas Blizzard

All of that wind will be a huge problem farther north. Cold air to the north of the center of low will allow precipitation to fall in the form of snow, and snow there will be.

The developing storm system will work with deep plumes of tropical moisture from both the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. All that extra moisture will allow this storm to produce a widespread swath of one to two feet of snow from Wyoming to North Dakota. Some cities will likely see two feet of snow by the end of the storm.

Snow will begin from southwest to northeast during the day on Wednesday and continue through Thursday night in northern areas.

If the snow isn't bad enough, those roaring winds will lead to white-out conditions for much of the snowstorm. Blizzard warnings are in effect from northeastern Colorado through central North Dakota in anticipation of a prolonged period of low- to no-visibility conditions during the heaviest snow and highest winds.

Severe Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms are a concern on the south side of the system. There's an enhanced risk for severe thunderstorms for the remainder of Tuesday across parts of Texas and New Mexico. At the time of this post's writing, several severe thunderstorms were ongoing in southeastern New Mexico. A tornado watch is in effect through Tuesday night for parts of western Texas and southeastern New Mexico, including Carlsbad, Midland, and Roswell.

The severe threat will advance east on Wednesday and Thursday as the cold front pushes into warm, unstable air flowing north from the Gulf of Mexico. Damaging wind gusts, large hail, and a couple of tornadoes are possible each day.

Heavy Rain and Flooding

Areas stuck between the snow to the north and storms to the south can expect a general period of cold, windy rain. The latest precipitation forecast from the Weather Prediction Center shows much of the country east of the Rockies seeing at least an inch of rain over the next week.

NWS river flooding forecast for the next seven days. (NWS)
The rain could be a particular problem in the Midwest where snowpack will rapidly melt in the heavy rain and sudden warm-up. River level forecasts from the National Weather Service show dozens of locations across the Midwest surging to major flood stage this week. More than 100 river gauges are forecast to see moderate or major flooding this week. The Platte River in Louisville, Nebraska, about halfway between Lincoln and Omaha, could come within a few tenths of an inch of breaking its all-time record high water level, a record set back in March 1960.

[Top Image: NOAA/WPC]

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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.