If you’re looking for an excuse to cut short — or prolong — your holiday visit, you’ve got a good one this year.
A major storm is moving across the central U.S. this week, and the best travel days will be Christmas itself or the weekend.
The good news is southeast Nebraska and most of Iowa are likely to see mostly rain. However, destinations west and north are likely to confront a major winter storm.
Much remains uncertain. Conditions in the days immediately after Christmas will depend upon the final track the storm takes along with the ability of crews to clear roads. But it’s clear the moisture-rich system will have a major impact. Up to a foot of snow is possible in parts of central and western Nebraska, and 1 inch to 2 inches of rain is likely on the east side of the state. The storm will be accompanied by strong winds and plummeting temperatures. Even folks who stay at home could be affected if the wind causes power outages.
Forecasters expect to have a better sense of the storm’s track by Tuesday, and certainly on Wednesday. On Monday, the storm system was still off the coast of North America, making it difficult to size up.
“Expect the forecast to change,” said Shawn Jacobs, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in North Platte. “Just a slight wobble in the track is going to make a big difference in central Nebraska.”
While a rain and snow mix is possible Monday night from a separate, smaller system, the biggest danger to the traveling public overnight into Tuesday morning will be the potential for dense fog. Fog will bring its typical visibility problems. But with temperatures dropping into the 20s overnight, the fog could freeze, coating untreated bridges in a sheen of ice. The eastern half of Nebraska is at risk of patchy, dense fog from the pre-dawn hours until mid- to late morning Tuesday.
Tuesday — Best travel day
Once the fog lifts, Christmas will be the best day for traveling this week. Clouds will cover much of the sky, and temperatures will be above freezing. Rain and possibly snow move in Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
Wednesday — Storm moves in, probably as rain
The storm system is traversing the U.S. from the southwest to the northeast, and where it bisects Nebraska, along with the timing of the descending cold air, will determine how badly the state is hit.
Rain is forecast across the region; however, in western Nebraska, the day could start and end with some freezing rain or drizzle. Overnight, the rain is expected to shift over to snow.
For December, this is an unusually moisture-rich storm system. Scattered thunderstorms are possible. In areas where the ground is frozen, watch for low-level flooding and quick-rising streams.
Ranchers in western Nebraska already have been warned to prepare for the worst type of weather for cattle: cold rains followed by heavy, wet snow, plummeting temperatures and rising winds.
Thursday — Conditions deteriorate
This is expected to be the worst travel day of the week. Thick, heavy snow is expected across the heart of Nebraska. Central and western Nebraska roads could have a layer of ice beneath packed snow. With strong winds forecast, portions of central and western Nebraska could see white-out conditions, according to the National Weather Service.
Even though the snow may come to an end by midday in western Nebraska, strong winds could still cause blowing and drifting snow, which could create difficulty clearing highways.
In eastern Nebraska, it’s likely to be miserable: rainy, windy, cold.
Statewide, northwest winds are expected to gust in excess of 30 mph.
Travel conditions will depend upon whether the wind has kept crews from clearing roads. Cold weather settles in, with highs in the 20s and overnight lows in the teens and single digits.
Details of this storm system are still emerging, so check the latest forecast before traveling.