Forecasters tracking potential winter storm threat for Groundhog Day

·4 min read

As a bomb cyclone wallops New England into Saturday night, the weather will continue to remain quiet across the middle of the nation, but that is expected to change next week, AccuWeather forecasters warn. Winter and spring are expected to collide as a far-reaching storm is poised to unfold right around Groundhog Day on Wednesday, Feb. 2, unleashing disruptive types of weather ranging from snow and ice to soaking rain and severe thunderstorms.

Forecasters are monitoring an approximate 2,000-mile-long swath from the foothills of the central Rockies to the Eastern Seaboard for impacts from the storm during the first days of February.

The storm will begin its journey across the country by first bringing nuisance rain and snow to portions of the Northwest during the final days of January. It is then expected to strengthen as it crosses the Rockies and enters the central and southern Plains at the start of February, according to forecasters.

Warm, moist air coming out of the Gulf of Mexico will collide with cold air surging south out of Canada, creating an ideal environment for an area of low pressure to intensify, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Brandon Buckingham.

Locations to the north and west of the center of the storm would be in line for plowable snow, while areas farther south and east could anticipate soaking rain and even the potential for severe thunderstorms should all of the proper ingredients come into place.

Forecasters advise those with travel plans across the Central and Eastern states next week to allow extra time to reach their destinations by car and prepare for what could be lengthy weather delays at the airports.

Accumulating snow may target Denver to Chicago, Detroit

"A potent snowstorm may be in the offing around the middle of the week across the center of the nation," Buckingham said, explaining that moisture flowing northward from the Gulf of Mexico could wrap around the cold side of the storm and lead to the accumulating snowfall.

The exact details on the areas at greatest risk for an accumulation and slippery travel will be ironed out over the coming days, but experts say that the metro areas of Denver; Kansas City, Missouri; Chicago; and Detroit are all in play for wintry weather. Should the storm track farther to the south, Oklahoma City and St. Louis could wind up with more snowfall; conversely, a more northern track would bring a higher risk for accumulations to Omaha, Nebraska; Des Moines, Iowa; and Madison, Wisconsin.

The impending storm is projected to take place on the anniversary of the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011, a historic storm that left thousands of Chicagoans stranded on major highways during rush hour as the snow came down at a fast pace.

AccuWeather meteorologists say it's too early to determine whether a storm of that caliber is on the table for the upcoming week, but caution that all it takes is a coating to a few inches of snow to create hazardous travel, especially during busy commute times.

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"Not only would snow be a concern, but the warm air lifting and riding over the cold air at the surface can also lead to an extensive swath of icy conditions. This corridor could extend from the southern Plains to the lower and middle Mississippi River Valley, Ohio River Valley and into the Great Lakes," Buckingham said.

Buckingham also noted that as the storm shifts eastward later on in the week, the line differentiating rain versus snow and ice would be much farther to the north than prior storms this winter.

Severe thunderstorms are a possibility

Rain, some of which will be heavy, is forecast to fall south and east of the aforementioned areas from portions of the lower Mississippi Valley through the Southeast.

"Across the South, the potential exists for severe thunderstorms as well," Buckingham noted.

Forecasters will be honing in on the exact areas at risk for potent thunderstorms over the coming days, but they say that places such as Little Rock, Arkansas; Nashville; Jackson, Mississippi; and Montgomery, Alabama; have the greatest risk of experiencing downpours and thunderstorm activity, regardless of severity.

Reduced visibility on the roadways from the intensity of rainfall and blowing spray from other vehicles is likely to be the most widespread impact across the region, but the most intense thunderstorms could also bring damaging wind gusts and perhaps isolated tornadoes.

"With the cold air in place across much of the central and eastern United States during the latter half of January, severe weather, with the exception of tornadic activity across South Florida on Jan. 16, has been nearly nonexistent. This flip in the pattern will bring warmth back to the South and East, so we should begin to see a risk of thunderstorm activity increase," Buckingham said.

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