Christmas Travel: A Wet & Wintry System

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If you have plans to be on the road this weekend around the South, the weather will be changing quickly. A developing storm system near the Gulf Coast and a surge of arctic air will bring all kinds of weather scenarios for travelers over the next seven days. Up front, there is no good way to forecast “travel” weather for a seven day period; there are too many people going to many places to really get a good forecast for everyone.

Saturday and Sunday will not bring many travel problems at all around the South; however, from West Virginia north up the Appalachians into Pennsylvania and on toward New England it will be very windy with some occasional show showers and squalls in the mountains. Over 4″ of snow is possible in the higher terrain of the Appalachians (ski resorts) in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Some good lake effect snow is possible around Buffalo and Syracuse Saturday, but Sunday looks like a generally dry day for the eastern United States with one exception.

An arctic cold front sliding south through Texas and Arkansas on Sunday will initiate some showers along the Central Gulf Coast north into Mississippi and Arkansas; some of that rain will move into the Tennessee Valley and Central Alabama on Sunday afternoon and evening:

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Snow already covers over 46% of the lower 48, and most of that snow will stick around through Christmas Day thanks to the cold air from the Arctic blowing south:

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Rain becomes much more likely around the Gulf States on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. An area of low pressure develops along that front Christmas Eve bringing rain to much of the South. That rain continues to increase in coverage (and get heavier) on Christmas Day as a secondary low develops near the Louisiana Gulf Coast and moves northeast toward Southeast Alabama.

There seems to be no real threat of severe weather with this storm system for most of the region; however, if you are traveling to the immediate Gulf Coast for the holidays (New Orleans-Mobile-Pensacola), there is at least a marginal threat for stronger storms. Be sure you have a way to get weather information if you’re traveling south.

Now, here’s the fun part! Some folks considered to be in the “South” will get snow on Christmas and the day after! If you are traveling north through Arkansas, southern Missouri, northern Tennessee, Kentucky and into West Virginia (including the Great Smoky Mountains), there is a good chance you’ll see at least an inch or two of snow between the 25th and 26th!

The map below shows the current GFS forecast of the this Gulf low’s track across the region. If it is farther south than this estimate, snow chances for the Tennessee Valley rise on Wednesday. If it moves north, we will see nothing but rain. Fifty to one hundred miles seems like a big distance, but when we are dealing with the entire atmosphere, that is barely the width of a hair in comparison. That being said, there is uncertainty in this forecast, so don’t get too excited yet…and don’t get too depressed that the odds aren’t any better than they are. Things can change…and 50 to 100 miles can often be the difference between white, wet, and dry!

The map also shows the probability of getting more than an inch of snow. The best chance looks to be north of I-40 through Middle Tennessee and into the Smokies, but North Alabama does stand at least a “chance” of seeing some light snow.

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If winter weather occurs, the ground temperatures will likely be warm enough to prevent a “shut-down” storm. Roads would likely be wet while a light accumulation of snow occurs on grass, trees, cars, rooftops and powerlines. The key here is “light.”

Travel between here and Branson, Kansas City, St. Louis, Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Louisville and the Great Smoky Mountains should be fine GOING there before Christmas. It’s the trip back that could be a little tricky on Wednesday!

We’ll be watching it and keeping you updated!

Merry Christmas!

-Jason
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