Watches and warnings in effect as complex storm threatens a host of weather impacts

Renee Duff

Winter storm warnings and watches stretch on Saturday morning stretched from Missouri to Maine as a complex storm system continued pushing across the middle of the United States.

The storm will be more typical of March as it will feature record-challenging warmth, flooding rainfall and severe thunderstorms on its southeastern side and an array of wintry precipitation to the north and west.

Enough heavy snow and ice can accumulate during the event to raise the risk of power outages and broken tree limbs, forecasters say. Power may be out for several days in some communities.

"The setup will result in a very tight weather contrast zone, where rainy conditions, snow and/or ice can all occur," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said. "Temperatures over a 100-mile cross section can range from the balmy 50s and 60s F to the 20s and 30s."

Snow to pummel central Plains to southern Canada

"On the western and northern tiers of this system, an area of snowfall will be likely from the central Plains up through the Great Lakes and into southern portions of Canada," AccuWeather Meteorologist Derek Witt said.

Enough snow and ice to disrupt daily routines, create slippery roadways and require shovels and plows, is possible from Oklahoma City to Wichita, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; Davenport, Iowa; Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; Caribou, Maine; and Quebec City.

The greatest risk of 6-12 inches of snowfall and an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 24 inches will be from the western and upper Great Lakes to southern Ontario, Quebec and northern Maine.

Quebec City is likely to get pummeled with its heaviest snow event so far this season, with 1-2 feet (30-60 centimeters) forecast to pile up.

Depending on how quickly the storm intensifies and how much moisture is available on its northwestern fringes, a separate area of 6 or more inches of snow can accumulate in the central Plains.

The snow set up over Oklahoma and southern Kansas on Saturday morning and will continue sweeping into part of the mid-Mississippi Valley and upper Great Lakes into Sunday.

In some cases, the storm may begin as rain before changing over to ice and then all snow as temperatures take a nosedive. Any untreated roads and sidewalks are likely to freeze up in a hurry, creating hidden dangers for motorists.

Weather whiplash can occur in portions of Oklahoma where severe thunderstorms could be followed by snow and/or ice in the span of 12-24 hours.

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The wintry weather will exit Kansas City in time for the AFC Divisional Round game between the Houston Texans and hometown Chiefs on Sunday, but periods of snow on Saturday may lead to delays for people arriving from out of town.

A variety of precipitation can occur in Chicago, with the greatest risk for accumulating snowfall expected during the tail end of the storm Saturday night. St. Louis could also experience snow on the back edge of the storm Saturday night after first being soaked with rain.

Just enough cold air will sneak in on the back side of the storm to cause wet and slushy areas to freeze from Missouri and southeastern Iowa to northern Michigan Saturday night.

Ice to create additional hazards in central, northeastern US

Sandwiched between the snow on the northern and western tiers and heavy rain and severe thunderstorms to the south, an icy corridor of sleet and freezing rain is expected.

AccuWeather meteorologists are concerned for a long-lasting freezing rain event. Communities that get hit hard with freezing rain are more likely to face widespread tree and power outages since this precipitation type clings to trees and power lines as opposed to bouncing off them like sleet.

The icy weather is likely to first target a narrow zone of the central Plains and Great Lakes region Friday night before expanding eastward into portions of New York state, New England and Canada's St. Lawrence River Valley.

"While freezing rain accretions of 0.25 to 0.50 of an inch (6-12 millimeters) will be common from northeastern Oklahoma to southern New Brunswick, a narrow zone from part of the Lower Michigan Peninsula to portions of southern Ontario, southwestern Quebec and northern New York state are likely to receive an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of freezing rain accretion near 1 inch (25 millimeters)," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson.

People should be prepared for the power to be out for an extended period. Ice accretions of this magnitude can have roads blocked and power out for days.

Motorists and airline passengers with flexible plans may consider holding off travel until Sunday in the Central states and Monday in the Northeast when much quieter weather will settle over these areas.

Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.