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High-impact storm to wreak havoc on holiday week travel

Blizzard conditions, wind gusts to 60 mph and torrential rainfall are likely to bring travel to a standstill Thursday and Friday as a huge storm affects millions.

A massive storm system will affect most of the country this week leading up to Christmas Eve, with the most significant impacts to major travel hubs from the Midwest to the Northeast expected Thursday and Friday.

The storm will begin to organize on Wednesday, bringing snow and wind to the Rockies and northern Plains.

On Thursday, heavy snow with strong winds will move into the Midwest, Great Lakes and central Plains. At the same time, the rain will spread across the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Blizzard conditions are likely with the combo of heavy snow and wind gusts in excess of 50 mph possible.

According to the forecast on Monday morning, Friday is set to be the highest impact day, given snow will still be falling hard across parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes as winds roar across these regions.

On Friday, the winds are forecast to be the strongest not just across the Midwest and Great Lakes but also across the Northeast and New England. Even the Southeast will experience strong winds. Blizzard conditions will be ongoing for areas still experiencing the snow.

While too early to predict exact snow totals across the Midwest, Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, there is a likelihood of a foot or more in several spots.

As snow is falling across the Midwest and Great Lakes, the I-95 corridor will be getting lashed with torrential rain and strong winds. While the dominant precipitation type from the Mid-Atlantic to the Northeast is expected to be mostly rain, it could end as a burst of snow on Friday as the storm exits and arctic air rushes in.

All of the major airport hubs will be affected

Chicago can expect snow and powerful winds beginning Wednesday night and lasting through Friday night.

Atlanta, while on the lighter rain side of the storm, will still get strong winds that could cause air delays for flights at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which consistently ranks as the world's busiest.

Washington's heavy rain on Thursday and the rain and wind combination on Friday will cause major issues. Despite the precipitation ending late Friday, strong winds lingering in the first half of Saturday could continue to spark delays until the winds subside.

New York City area airports will also be in for a long stretch of delays beginning with the rain on Thursday, and the number of delays and likely cancellations are expected to get worse on Friday due to high winds accompanying the rain.

Boston will hold onto the precipitation the longest into the holiday weekend, with the rain beginning Thursday and not ending until early Saturday. High winds will also lead to delays and cancellations.

Whether the hubs are experiencing rain or snow, all will experience strong winds that will compound delays and lead to all-around uncomfortable flights due to turbulence.

Travel on the roads will be equally hazardous. Whether blizzard conditions producing whiteout visibilities across the Midwest or heavy rain causing blinding spray on the windshields, Thursday and Friday won't be great days to be driving or flying.

In addition to the large storm this week, an arctic outbreak that gets started Monday across the northern Plains will affect everyone east of the Rockies by Christmas weekend.

Temperatures this week will be 30-40 degrees below average, resulting in bone-chilling temperatures and these headlines to watch out for:

  • Wind chills as cold as 60 below zero across the Rockies and northern Plains.
  • Many locations in the northern Plains and Upper Midwest will experience their first sub-zero high temperatures.
  • A few record lows will be possible, including for Denver, which is forecast to hit 16 below zero on Friday
  • Of particular concern are below-freezing temperatures headed for Texas, which could arrive Thursday night and last into Saturday. This will spark energy and pipe-freeze concerns late in the week for areas as far south as Houston. Wind chill warnings are likely all the way to the Gulf Coast.
  • Once the arctic air spills south and east by the end of the week and into the weekend, it could result in the coldest Christmas in years for many.
  • The cold air will rush in so fast it could cause a flash freeze. New York City, for example, will go from a high on Friday around 56 to a low Saturday morning of 19 — a 30-degree temperature drop in less than 12 hours.

Not even Florida will escape the cold weather. Low temperatures this weekend will be 20s across northern Florida, 30s in central Florida and 40s for South Florida.