December 24, 2020

A Boisterous Windstorm Will Usher In A Frigid Christmas Across Much Of The Eastern U.S.

A coast-to-coast storm will reach its peak tonight as it shoves its way across the eastern United States, bringing some combination of dangerously strong winds, severe thunderstorms, flooding rains, and heavy snow to everyone from the southern tip of Florida to the northern reaches of Maine. This storm will be highly disruptive in many areas as it pushes through.

As we've seen out west already, a strong pressure gradient will lead to ripping winds as the system strengthens. The low already produced heavy snow and intense winds across much of the north-central part of the country. Intense winds buffeted communities in the Rockies and on the Plains earlier this week. A significant portion of Minnesota and Iowa endured blizzard conditions during the day on Thursday, whiteout conditions that made driving a fool's errand and simply walking around without getting disoriented just about as difficult.

More snow will fall as the system tracks east. The greatest snowfall totals—read: the greatest chance for a white Christmas—will fall in the Ohio Valley and the Appalachians. Some areas could see a decent li'l snowstorm, with totals exceeding half a foot in higher elevations of West Virginia. Lake effect snow on the eastern shores of the Great Lakes will bring a fresh blanket to communities that are plenty acclimated to those conditions.

Farther east, it'll be rain, storms, and wind. Ugly stuff any time of the year, but just brutal for Christmas Eve. Even though people shouldn't be traveling (NUDGE NUDGE), people will travel anyway, and those folks—hopefully not you, my loving and health-conscious reader—should pay attention to the weather and make plans to quickly get to safety if they roll up on dangerous storms or flash flooding.

Flash flood watches are in effect for a vast swath of the eastern United States, stretching from Tennessee to New England's border with Canada. It's not going to be a tremendous amount of rain, but a few inches of rain will fall quickly—that's a problem on its own, but many of these areas still have snow on the ground from last week's storm, so between existing snowpack, rapid snow melt, and clogged storm drains, some areas could deal with flash flooding.

Severe thunderstorms will be an issue closer to the coast. I went into detail about the threat over at my Forbes column on Wednesday afternoon. There's an enhanced risk for severe weather in parts of eastern North Carolina and Virginia on Thursday afternoon and evening. That's a pretty significant risk for this region this late in the year.

Any thunderstorms that form have the potential to produce damaging wind gusts and tornadoes, especially in the discrete storms that form ahead of the cold front. These individual thunderstorms ahead of the main line have the greatest chance of developing into supercells capable of producing tornadoes.

This storm will likely be remembered for its wind. It's going to be windy. Wiiindy. The wind will follow the track of the low-pressure system from the Mid-South straight through New England on Friday. Widespread wind gusts of 40 to 50 MPH will be the norm across many eastern states, with higher gusts likely in thunderstorms, higher elevations, and communities close to coastlines.

Wind alerts scattered around from Texas to Maine in anticipation of widespread gusty winds. Gusts greater than 60 MPH could be common in parts of New England, which will easily knock out power. Widespread power outages are going to be difficult for power crews to get a handle on, so there's a good chance that many communities will spend Christmas without electricity as a result of this storm.

Make sure you're prepared for a power outage. Keep flashlights (actual, physical flashlights) and plenty of batteries to keep them going for at least several days. Gather some non-perishable, ready-to-eat food and water so you don't scramble to find something to eat if you can't cook anything, keeping in mind that McDonald's and Pizza Hut probably won't have power either. And please be mindful of candles and fireplaces as you try to see and keep warm.

It's going to be tough to keep warm in many areas. That cold front is a doozy. Temperatures plummeted 30-40°F in many areas in the central U.S. High temperatures will struggle to climb above freezing in many parts of the east on Christmas.

Here's the National Weather Service's high temperature forecast for Friday. Some of these high temperatures in New England will occur not long after midnight, plummeting through the morning and day after the cold front passes through. (Temperatures will be quite nice on the Plains, though, as a ridge builds in behind the big storm.)

And here's their low temperature forecast for Friday night:

Brr. The chilly air makes it all the way to southern Florida, which won't escape this burst of cold air without a morning in the mid 40s. 

It's not going to linger for too long—temperatures will slowly moderate after this weekend—but it's going to stick around just long enough to remind you that we're in the throes of winter now.

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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.