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Heavy snow, deep freeze descend on Rockies, Plains

Vehicles travel during a heavy snowfall in Fargo, N.D., on Monday. KVLY

Three weeks shy of winter, another wintry storm threatened to chill people from Washington to Wisconsin to the bone and dump as much as 2 feet of snow in mountainous areas.

“We currently have almost 2.5 million people under a winter-storm warning,” said Kelsey Angle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

A satellite image taken on Dec. 2, at 2:30 p.m. ET, shows a weather system over a large swath of the western United States, which is expected to dump up to 15 inches of snow in some parts. GOES / NOAA

The storm system is expected to produce widespread snow across the Rocky Mountains and Northern Plains starting Monday and continuing through Wednesday. In the hardest hit areas of the Rockies, the NWS is predicting up to 2 feet of snow. Parts of North Dakota and Minnesota could see a foot.

“There will be very significant snow out of this storm,” said Jonathan Erdman, senior meteorologist at the Weather Channel.

“If they don’t have the Christmas spirit yet, they will by Wednesday,” he added. “It will look like a postcard out there.”

But snow is not all the winter storm has in store, Angle said. Arctic air behind the storm is predicted to move southward through the Plains, bringing with it subzero temperatures.

Warm gusty winds that could reach 80 mph were blowing through parts of Colorado on Monday ahead of the cold front and temperatures there could drop 50 degrees by Wednesday, reported KUSA, the NBC station in Denver.

The frigid temperatures will continue through the week, with highs below zero in North Dakota and Montana on Thursday. By Friday, the cold air mass will be “firmly entrenched” across the plains and upper Midwest.

“We‘re looking for some pretty widespread snow and then the intrusion of the arctic air to remain through the work week into the weekend,” Angle said.

Angle said people should always take precautions around temperatures this low.

“When you have an expansive cold air mass with prolonged impacts, that is going to raise concerns of exposure for people who are outside for long periods of time,” he said. “That’s when you start to see frostbite and hypothermia if precautions aren’t taken to protect yourself from the cold.”

Erdman said the effects of the cold air will be even more far reaching.

“The cold air is not just a North Dakota thing or a Minnesota thing; it’s going to shiver much of the Southwest, including California,” he said.

In Washington state, Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass through the Cascade Mountains was closed for more than six hours overnight Monday due to high winds, falling trees and icy conditions from the weather system.

State officials closed the freeway after a truck driver was injured when his rig hit a tree on the east side of the pass. Four other collisions were also blamed on the storm.

Drivers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area saw their first significant snow of the season on Monday evening, a light slushy mix, but northern Minnesota towns reported up to 6 inches.

In addition to snow and cold, parts of the Ohio Valley, Tennessee and Arkansas could see significant ice accumulation starting Thursday.

“Potentially some of those places hit by the storm before Thanksgiving could see more ice, at least on the roads from this particular event,” Erdman said.

Erdman said for those looking to escape the winter weather, Florida is expected to experience record highs this week.

“If you hate winter and want to get away, head to the Sunshine State and enjoy some upper 70s and 80s this weekend,” he said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.