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Blinding lake-effect snow, bitterly cold winds to cause Thanksgiving travel delays

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Blinding lake-effect snow, bitterly cold winds to cause Thanksgiving travel delays

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
November 14, 2017, 11:29:20 AM EST

Following mild, wet weather to end this week, progressively colder air will unleash rounds of heavy lake-effect snow from the Upper Midwest to the interior Northeast for travel during the week of Thanksgiving.

Travel delays related to wind and/or snow are likely in parts of the midwestern and eastern United States.

"We expect two major pushes of cold air into the eastern half of U.S. during the week of Thanksgiving," according to AccuWeather Long-Range Meteorologist Evan Duffey.

Static US Next Week

The weather pattern is giving mixed signals as to whether a storm will bring rain and snow to the East during the transition to the cold weather.

However, a certainty will be the consequences of reinforcing waves of cold air passing over the Great Lakes.

As cold air passes over the relatively warm waters, streets of towering clouds form and deposit heavy snow along the downwind shoreline and dozens of miles inland.

Static Winterlike Pattern Next Week NE US

Where the bands of heavy snow persist, feet of snow can fall. Multiple rounds of lake-effect snow are anticipated from Sunday through the Thanksgiving weekend.

The details of which communities will be hit the hardest on particular days has yet to be determined. A small variance in the wind direction can vary the bands of heavy snow by a dozen miles or more.

For example, a west-southwest wind off Lake Ontario would blast Watertown, New York, with intense snow, but a due west wind would potentially bury communities such as Barnes Corners, New York, several miles to the south.


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"Motorists with plans on utilizing Interstate 90 from northern Indiana to western New York, I-81 in northern New York state and other highways immediately downwind of all of the Great Lakes should be prepared for winter's worst next week," according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Steve Travis.

One round of lake-effect snow associated with the first cold blast will erupt later this weekend into early next week.

Static Lake Effect Round One

Another round of lake-effect snow is likely to begin during the middle of next week. That round may be much more significant and long-lasting based on the anticipated duration and intensity of the cold air.

Travel conditions will range from blinding snow and the potential for temporary road closures to sunny over a span of a few miles.

At times, the bands of lake-effect snow may extend 200 miles or more to the central Appalachians. Motorists traveling through the higher terrain in West Virginia, western Maryland and western and northern Pennsylvania should expect locally blinding snow squalls and a quick accumulation on roads. This includes stretches of I-79 and I-80.

At times, wind gusts may be strong enough to lead to difficulty for high-profile vehicles. Strong crosswinds at airports from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic coast can lead to airline delays in lieu of any snow or a major storm.

Gusty winds to add to the pain of the cold air

"Blasts of cold air like this are not uncommon during the middle and latter part of November," Duffey said. "However, following the warmth during most weeks of this autumn season, heating demand will be high."

Temperatures are projected to average 10 degrees Fahrenheit below normal during multiple days during the week of Thanksgiving from the Midwest to the Northeast, as well as much of the Southeast.

The anticipated weather pattern will translate to highs in the 20s over the northern tier to the 40s over the interior South on the coldest days. AccuWeather RealFeel® temperatures can dip to 20 degrees lower than the actual temperature at times.

Battling the wind on the highway may reduce fuel efficiency.

Regardless of wind, motorists can expect to pay much more at the pump for their Thanksgiving road trip. Strong consumer demand and lowering national inventory have pushed gasoline prices to nearly 40 cents a gallon higher than last year at this time, according to the American Automobile Association.

One positive on the cold weather pattern will be plenty of opportunities for ski resorts to make snow in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

What about the storm potential?

In terms of large-scale storms that may increase commute time, one storm projected to affect much of the eastern U.S. this weekend will likely be warm enough for rain in most areas and even gusty thunderstorms in part of the Midwest.

However, it is the same storm that will set into motion the first blast of cold air for next week.

"A second storm during the middle of next week has the potential to bring a period of rain along the Atlantic coast and snow over the Appalachians spanning Wednesday to Thanksgiving Day," according to AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams. "Another scenario is the second storm may be so overwhelmed by cold, dry air that it is forced out to sea."

Regardless of the nature of the storms, gone are the warm and tranquil conditions that graced much of the Midwest and East during October.

Motorists and airline passengers should anticipate delays and be ready to adjust their travel plans during the week of Thanksgiving.

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