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Powerful Winter Storm Bears Down on Central Plains

11:35 AM, Feb 20, 2013   |    comments
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Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

Moisture from the Gulf of Mexico is expected to collide with a cold air mass over Kansas and Nebraska Wednesday, triggering a powerful winter storm that could dump more than a foot of snow over the Central Plains, according to the National Weather Service.

Midday Wednesday, the entire state of Kansas, along with most of Nebraska and Missouri, was under a winter storm warning from the weather service.

Howling winds and driving snow will bring several hours of blizzard conditions to parts of Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa Wednesday night into Thursday, AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani said.

"Mostly snow is forecast to fall around Chicago later Thursday and Thursday night, with the storm likely to be not only the biggest storm of the winter so far, but also a very disruptive one at that," Sagliani said. Up to 4 inches of snow is possible in the Windy City, the weather service reported.

Widespread snow is also forecast for the central and southern Rockies and sleet and freezing rain is likely over parts of Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas.

The powerful storm roaring into the Southwest Wednesday and central U.S. on Thursday will also bring heavy rain, strong winds -- but also much-needed moisture for the drought-scorched Plains.

The storm was moving east from California across the Four Corners states, Weather Channel meteorologist Nick Wiltgen said. This will lead to widespread snowfall across the mountains of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and northern and eastern Arizona, he reports. Lower elevations will see a cold rain.

The World Golf Championship Match Play event, which was scheduled to start Wednesday near Tucson, will be played in wretched conditions, with persistent rain, gusty winds, and temperatures in the 40s.

The Weather Channel has named the storm "Winter Storm Q."

However, other than the travel issues due to the snow, the precipitation will be welcome in much of the drought-scorched Plains: "Many areas of the drought region should enjoy their their wettest day in months," said meteorologist Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground.

"As bad off as we are this fall and winter, it will definitely help,"said climatologist Mark Svoboda

"Since October, we are down 2 to 4 inches in the region, so while it will help, it will need to be followed up by a couple of other large storms just to get us to normal on the season......and that does nothing to make up for the much larger deficits due to last year's drought."

The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor shows that 77% of the state of Nebraska is enduring "exceptional" drought conditions, the highest level of drought. In Kansas, 36% of the state is under exceptional drought.

"We'll put up with a blizzard to get this critical moisture rather than the alternative of no blizzard -- as we aren't in a position to be too choosy about how we get that moisture!" Svoboda said.

Further to the south, on the warmer side of the storm, severe weather is possible in central Texas Wednesday, according to the Storm Prediction Center. The main threats are large hail and damaging winds. By Thursday, the severe weather threat shifts east into eastern Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, where tornadoes are possible in addition to the hail and winds.

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