Dangerous snow squalls to hamper travel conditions in Northeast

Alex Sosnowski

The first several hours of a brief burst of cold air will lead to an outbreak of lake-effect snow and snow squalls from the Upper Midwest to the Northeast into Wednesday night. A dangerous quick freeze-up will accompany and follow the snow.

"This setup looks to be similar to that of Dec. 18, where flurries and snow squalls wandered well away from the Great Lakes region and reached New York City," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dave Dombek said.

Pedestrians observe a snow squall in Times Square Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

On Tuesday night, snow squalls began to pick up off of Lake Erie. Erie, Pennsylvania, reported thundersnow with visibility plummeting to one-quarter of a mile.

During Wednesday in the Northeast, a couple of snow squalls have the potential to travel hundreds of miles downwind of the Great Lakes. This means that portions of Interstate 70 in eastern Ohio; I-76 and I-80 in Pennsylvania; and part of I-95 in northern Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and New England could be affected.

Snow squall warnings were issued to residents throughout parts of the Northeast Wednesday morning, including in Rochester, New York, as well as around central Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia area.

Cell phones buzzed with additional alerts with wording cautioning of  sudden whiteouts and icy roads and urging motorists to slow down.

The weather may be clear and roads dry one minute, then the next minute snow may be coming down at a fast pace with slippery road conditions.

Conditions like this in the past have contributed to deadly accidents and multiple-vehicle pileups including in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.

In a few cases, thunder and lightning can accompany the snow squalls, similar to thunderstorms, which are their summertime cousins.

While far from the heaviest lake-effect snow that can fall during early January, a few inches of snow can accumulate in parts of northern Michigan, northwestern Pennsylvania and western, central and northern New York state.

An AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 5 inches is expected, where the bands of snow persist downwind of lakes Erie and Ontario.

Portions of Interstate 75, I-79, I-86 and I-90 will fall within the bands of lake-effect snow. Motorists traveling through the portions of the states aforementioned should be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions that include poor visibility and snow-covered roads.

While far from how cold it can can get this time of the year, the combination of the cold air, wind and other factors will make for harsh conditions from Wednesday to Thursday from the Great Lakes to the central Appalachians, mid-Atlantic and New England.

Plunging temperatures can cause roads to become icy in a matter of minutes. People who headed out to work, school or the store with few problems may have blinding snow and icy roads on the trip home.

AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures can dip to 15-25 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the actual temperature when factoring in the blustery conditions.

RealFeel® Temperatures will dip below zero over the upper Great Lakes, northern New York state and northern New England, and the single digits, teens and 20s farther south over the Ohio Valley, central Appalachians and mid-Atlantic.

"The period from Wednesday to Thursday is likely to bring the first day with below-average temperatures since Dec. 21, 2019 in the Northeast," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tom Kines.

On Dec. 21, normal high temperatures ranged from the upper 20s in northern Maine and northern Michigan to the upper 30s over the Ohio Valley and the upper 40s over the lower part of the Chesapeake Bay region.

During the middle of this week, average high temperatures typically range from near 20 in northern Maine and the middle 20s in northern Michigan to the middle 30s over the Ohio Valley and the middle 40s over southeastern Virginia.

On Wednesday, highs are forecast to be in the lower teens in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to the middle 20s in Detroit and near 30 in Pittsburgh.

The core of the cold will settle over the Northeast on Thursday. Highs on Thursday are expected to range from the lower to middle teens in Caribou, Maine, to the middle 30s in New York City and the middle 40s over southeastern Virginia.

Temperatures are forecast to rebound late this week and may challenge record-high levels in a dramatic turnaround by early this weekend.

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