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Big snowstorm could ease drought in central U.S.

7:36 AM, Feb 20, 2013   |    comments
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A powerful storm will roar into the Southwest Wednesday and central U.S. on Thursday, bringing heavy snow and rain, strong winds, and the potential for severe weather - but also much-needed moisture for the drought-scorched Plains.

As of late Tuesday, portions of 16 states from California to Wisconsin were under some form of winter weather warning or advisory from the National Weather Service as the storm began to move into the West Coast.

Wednesday, the storm will move 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 is scheduled to start Wednesday near Tucson, will be played in wretched conditions, with persistent rain, gusty winds, and temperatures in the 40s.

By Thursday, the storm will affect a vast area from Texas to the Dakotas, AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani said. Snowfall in excess of a foot is expected across parts of Nebraska and Kansas, with freezing rain possible for parts of the southern Plains into the mid and lower Mississippi Valley, according to 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, Sagliani said.

Icing is possible in central and southern Missouri, central Illinois, and portions of Arkansas due to the freezing rain.

"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.

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 of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb. "This storm's potential dumping of up to 12 inches (of snow) would roughly equate to 1 inch of rainfall.

"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.

Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

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